Filling up on Pumpkin

“For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.”

Lyrics to popular song in the 1600s

Pumpkins. We buy them whole in October to perform surgery on, and then expect to see them again in November in a pie.  We’ve come to think of pumpkin pie as one of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Probably not. Together with squashes, they are native to New England, and were a common food source for Native Americans.  Early European settlers adopted pumpkin eating, but it was unlikely that they had the butter and wheat flour we use today for the crust until many years later.

According to historians from Plimouth Plantation, the earliest written pumpkin pie recipes are dated several generations after the First Thanksgiving, and then they treat pumpkin more like apples (which are not native and had, by then, been brought over from Europe), slicing it and sometimes frying the slices before layering them in a crust.

This recipe may more closely resemble an early pumpkin pie than what we are accustomed to today (which, if you tend to have it with canned pumpkin, I urge you to read the latest on BPA in cans, and use a real pumpkin instead).  The filling does contain butter and bread cubes, but these can easily be omitted for historical purity.  A simple filling made with spiced milk and eggs is likely that of the original pumpkin pie.

Today pumpkins are recognized as a particularly good source of vitamin A and beta-carotene, as well as vitamin C.  Since they are naturally sweet, they help satisfy our sweet tooth, preventing a sugar craving. Some research suggests that eating pumpkin works well to balance insulin and is therefore effective for pre-diabetes and diabetes.

Pumpkin seeds have many health benefits, including being a good source of protein, zinc, iron and vitamins, most notably vitamin E. Pumpkin seeds also contain tryptophan, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus.

Bread Pudding in a Pumpkin Shell

An Original Pumpkin Pie

  • 1 pie pumpkin or other nice-looking winter squash (roughly 4-5 pounds)
  • 2 cups milk (or coconut milk*)
  • 1/4 cup butter (or coconut oil*), melted.
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 cups stale bread, cubed
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup raisins and/or dried cranberries or sultanas
  • 1/2 walnuts and/or pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon each of ground alspice, ginger, cloves and/or cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon maple liquor (optional, however, the next time you’re in Vermont, you will not be disappointed if you treat yourself to a bottle of “Cabin Fever” Maple Liquor)
  • whole nutmeg, for grinding


  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds (although it makes a great deal of sense to use the seeds from your pumpkin, I have to admit that I like the taste of the greenish-colored “pepitas” better)
  • butter or oil, just enough to coat pan
  • 1 teaspoon maple sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350º degrees.
  2. Wash pumpkin. Cut off the top of the pumpkin and clean out the inside.  Brush the top and inside with a little melted butter.
  3. Replace cover on pumpkin and heat in oven for 20 minutes.
  4. While pumpkin is in oven, scald milk for the bread pudding filling. Remove from heat and add butter and maple syrup.  Pour mixture over stale bread cubes and let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Then add eggs, raisins, nuts, spices, vanilla and splash of liquor.
  5. Take pumpkin out of oven, remove the top and fill with the bread mixture and grate some fresh nutmeg over the top.  This time without the top, place pumpkin in a baking dish and bake for 1- 1 1/2 hours or until the pumpkin is soft (cooking time will vary depending on the size of the pumpkin) and the pudding is cooked. Any leftover filling can be cooked in ramekins, which will not need the full cooking time.
  6. To make the topping: melt butter in a small skillet, add the pumpkin seeds.  Give them a shake and/or stir several times and watch them closely since they burn easily.  Once browned and starting to pop, remove from heat and sprinkle with cinnamon and maple (or regular) sugar.
  7. Remove pumpkin from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  8. Serve as boat-like slices with a wedge of pumpkin as the base, filled with bread pudding and how about a nice dollop of vanilla yogurt, creme fraiche, freshly whipped cream or ice cream on top. Sprinkle all over with cinnamon pumpkin seeds.

Thanks to Wilson Farm in Lexington, Massachusetts (my childhood farmstand) and our early American foremothers for the inspiration for this recipe.

* Note to Primal/Paleo eaters: This type of pie can be easily adapted to a hunter-gatherer diet.  Like the early New England settlers, omit the bread cubes and butter, and make the custard with coconut oil, coconut milk and plenty of eggs and spices. The links above connect to these products in BPA-free packaging.


6 thoughts on “Filling up on Pumpkin

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