Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pehr Kalm about pumpkins in colonial North America

Excited by the discovery of Pehr Kalm's experimental gardens in Sipsalo, I have been reading his North American travel journal from 1748 to 1751 with great interest and joy. I bought this book as a reprint of the 1770 English edition. As today is Halloween, the greatest pumpkin orgy of the year in North America, I thought it could be interesting to share some of Pehr Kalm's notes on these vegetables. This is what he wrote down in Montreal on September 19th, 1749:
'Pumpkins, of several long, oblong, round, flat or compressed, crook-necked, small, etc. are planted in all the English and French colonies. In Canada they fill the chief part of the farmers' kitchen gardens, though the onions are close second. Each farmer in the English plantations has a large field planted with pumpkins, and the Germans, Swedes, Dutch and other Europeans settled in their colonies plant them. They constitute a considerable part of the Indian food; however, the natives plant more squashes than common pumpkins. They declare that they had the latter long before the Europeans discovered America, which seems to be confirmed by the accounts of the first Europeans that came into these parts.'
'Pumpkins are prepared for eating in various ways. The Indians boil them whole, or roast them in ashes and eat them, or sell them thus prepared in the town; and they have, indeed, a very fine flavor when roasted. The French and English slice them and put the slices before the fire to roast; when they are done they generally put sugar on the pulp. Another way of roasting them is to cut them through the middle, take out all the seeds, put the halves together again and roast them in an oven. When they are quite done, some butter is put in while they are warm, which being imbibed to the pulp renders it very palatable.'
'The Indians, in order to preserve the pumpkins for a very long time, cut them in long slices which they fasten or twist together and dry either in the sun or by the fire in a room. When they are thus dried, they will keep for years, and when boiled they taste very well. Sometimes they do not take the time to boil the pumpkin, but eat it dry with dried beef or other meat; and I own they are eatable in that state, and very welcome to a hungry stomach.'
Have a great Halloween weekend, with or without pumpkins. Maybe it is time to try one of the recipes Kalm noted down?
Pehr Kalm (1716-1779) was a naturalist, explorer, agricultural economist and priest from Finland, who studied with Carl von Linné (Carolus Linnaeus) in Uppsala, Sweden. He traveled in Sweden, Finland, Russia (1742–1745) and later to North America (1748–1751), visiting Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Niagara Falls, Montreal and Quebec. Kalm wrote a journal of his travels to North America, 'En resa til Nord America', which was published already during his lifetime in four different languages.
Picture from Glasgow University Emblem website: a print from 1621 with a gourd climbing up a pine, representing "transitory success".


Daniel Mount said...

It's good to know that pumpkin roasting is an ancient art, we harvested nearly 250 ponds of squash and pumpkins this fall. I love them roasted with butter salt and pepper. I'm also glad to see you got some of Marian's plants, it's sad to see that garden go. It made me truly think about the impermanence of everything I do, even planting trees.

Ruben said...

Så intressant! Och ett sådant vackert och lättläst språk det är skrivet på (men det är kanske din förtjänst?). Trevlig helg! /Ruben