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Saturday, November 7, 2015


A Republican tea in Philadelphia and a recipe for those new small fat edible pumpkins. 

Betsy heaved a sigh of relief and smoothed her party dress. In the center of the table sat the tea, steaming in a fine English china pot her mother had given her. The surrounding fare was substantial. The guests were obviously enjoying their repast. It was a full-scale affair, a long table covered with savories as well as sweets.

Some, Betsy had made herself, some she had brought in from famous Philadelphia bake shops. From her kitchen had come apple, beef and kidney and pigeon pies, conserves of pears and plums, and loaves of bread.

She knew that to the Philadelphians as well as to the rich southerners, her tea was a simple affair. No roast pig, no pheasant, no songbirds stuffed in pigeons stuffed in ducks stuffed in turkeys. Nor any French cook backstage drowning everything in sauce, such as Mr. Jefferson employed.

Betsy didn’t have money for such luxuries on the slender salary of her public servant husband. Even if she had had, her Dutch housewife’s upbringing wouldn’t have allowed her to ever feel easy with a French cook in the kitchen.

After a little time, she overheard the judgment of Philadelphia society upon the table of Mrs. Secretary of the Treasury.

“Pumpkin custard baked in the pumpkin. How quaint!”

“Yes. Good Lord. I haven’t been intimate with the dish in years.”

“Well, try some. It’s delicious. I’d quite forgotten how good it can be.”
The story of Alexander Hamilton & Elizabeth Schuyler

Here's an 18th Century recipe for Mrs. Hamilton's Pumpkin Custard "Pie," which is made a little chancey without the intense heat of a wood-fired wall oven. My directions will probably be a little eye-ballish to some, but that's the way I learned to cook. I'm a pantser in the kitchen, too, which is why I'll never be a gourmet chef.
 Cut the lid from a small pumpkin, the 1-2 lb., such as Baby Bear, Small Sugar, Wee Be Little. Remove the seeds and strings and gently clean. You want meat to be left behind.
Place the pumpkin, a TBS of water inside, the top back on, in an oven proof pan, one with sides, like a pie pan, in case of spillage.
Roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
While it's roasting, make a small batch of custard by your favorite recipe, perhaps something like:
3 whole eggs
1 cup whipping cream -- or, if you want the lower calorie option, 1 cup of evaporated milk 
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. molasses
dash nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon  
1/4 tsp. ginger
I'd jigger this recipe around in different ways, depending on the size of the pumpkin cavity. Use more or less spice to your taste. More Molasses would have been preferred by the 18th Century American diner.)
Beat the custard together.
After 30 minutes, check the pumpkin. (If you've got a couple of smaller pumpkins, this will cook faster, so watch it.) As the pumpkin just yields to a knife, remove the top--careful, it's hot--and gently add the custard--as much as the pumpkin/s will hold. You may place any leftover custard in small glass dishes and cook alongside the roasting pumpkin. 
Add another 10 minutes if you don't think it's sufficiently softened. Add the custard. Bake for another 45 minutes and then say a prayer to the oven goddess for the custard to set. Again, if not, just give it a few more minutes.
Serve the pumpkin whole at table, scraping some of the pulp to accompany each scoop of custard.
(Downsized from the 5-7 lb. pumpkin original and adapted from Jeff Smith's The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, William Morrow & Co., 1984)