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ISSUE 121 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/16/2007

Pumpkin pie: Legend of yore or something more?

By Cody Venzke
Variety Editor

Friday, November 16, 2007

Although you might not know it anymore, there's still a major holiday in November. Some of us might remember Thanksgiving. If you think about it, if you really try, I'm sure you'll be able to recall vague images of turkey, stuffing and maybe even mashed potatoes. But maybe not - maybe the days of Thanksgiving were too long ago.

Christmas is just too popular for Turkey Day to get much attention. Although the Christmas season doesn't officially begin until the day after Thanksgiving, it would seem that the Black Friday rule is more of a ballpark recommendation than strict holiday law. Stores, for example, are more than happy to begin putting out Christmas displays during the first few weeks of October. Our very own bookstore put out ornaments and Christmas music the week before Halloween. It simply seems that turkey and football can't compete with Santa and Christmas carols.

To top it off, Halloween snatches up any holiday spirit not reserved for Christmas, like a greedy kid grabbing candy. Sandwiched between two behemoth holidays, Thanksgiving doesn't have a chance.

And it's not fair. What did Thanksgiving ever do to deserve such neglect? After all, the fourth Thursday of November will be buying us a five day break this year (that's if you count the weekend). And you can't beat the food. Sure, Halloween has its candy and Christmas has ham dinner at grandma's house, but Thanksgiving has so much more. The whole holiday is dedicated to food; Christmas is a religious celebration, and Halloween a carnival, but Thanksgiving is a harvest festival.

It's in the very history of the holiday. We all know the story. After barely surviving their first winter in the New World, the poor Pilgrims were helped by the friendly natives over the next year to cultivate the land. Come harvest time, the Europeans reaped the fruits of the earth, and everybody got together to celebrate the bounty and, you know, peace and good will among all people. (Or is that a different holiday again?) Or so the story goes. Sure, some people want to be downers and point out that the whole thing is probably a nice story that never happened, but the point is that the whole holiday is a celebration of food.

Despite relegating Thanksgiving to second-class status as a holiday, we still love our food. Most people have their favorite highlights of the Thanksgiving meal. For many, it's the turkey. Some people are weird and like the gravy or maybe the fruit salad that Aunt Petunia brings over every year. Some people are downright absurd and have ham for Thanksgiving - more power to them. I guess. But everybody knows that the turkey, the gravy and even the fruit salad are just sideshows to the main attraction - dessert.

And if you thought "apple pie" when I said "dessert," shame on you. (Seriously, apple pie? What's wrong with you? Apple pie is a summer dessert. Even Russian tea cakes have more to do with Thanksgiving than apple pie.) No, the real dessert of Thanksgiving - the highlight of the whole meal - is pumpkin pie and pumpkin pie alone.

When it comes to traditional holiday foods, pumpkin pie stands almost unrivaled. Turkey may be the quintessential Thanksgiving food, but even the plumpest, juiciest turkey is still just a turkey. Pumpkin pie, however, is bright, sweet and can be enjoyed anytime during the fall season. Whereas turkey leaves the feaster debating whether to have white meat or dark meat, pumpkin pie is beautiful in its simplicity. The only question is whether to have three pieces or four lies in traditional, homegrown values - values like having pumpkin (not apple) pie for Thanksgiving.

Some families, like that of Katie Mischke '10, have made pumpkin pie an annual Thanksgiving tradition. "My family has pumpkin pie every year for Thanksgiving," she said. For other students, such as Katie Rohrer '10, whose mother brought her pumpkin pie last week, the seasonal dessert is a connection between St. Olaf and home.

Family traditions surrounding pumpkin pie aren't without historic grounding either. Pumpkin pie has been a part of American culture in one form or another since 1621, when settlers at Plymouth Plantation began baking stewed pumpkins with milk and spices. Pumpkin pie as we know it was developed towards the end of the 18th century. Over the years, pumpkin pie has even become a topic for poets. In his poem "The Pumpkin," John Greenleaf Whittier writes, "What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye, / What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?" It's obvious: despite what those apple pie lovers might say, nothing completes Thanksgiving like pumpkin pie.

Others, however, have come to the truth of pumpkin pie without learning it from family traditions. For them, the taste is the most important aspect of pumpkin pie. In reality, pumpkin pie is a desert of contrasts: the filling, the crust, and the spices all combine to form the ideal Thanksgiving dessert. Unlike other pies (especially the heretical apple pie), the pumpkin in a pumpkin pie is a soft, custard-like filling. The crisp, flaky crust offers a perfect frame for the sweet filling, while the spices (usually cinnamon and ginger) contrast with the rest of the pie.

Katherine Atchison '10 told about her own conversion to the glory of pumpkin pie. Although pumpkin pie isn't a tradition in Atchison's family, it remains one of her favorite holiday desserts. "It's all about flavor," she said. "It's not really a nostalgia thing." Atchison also added that although pumpkin pie is nearly flawless in its own right, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream can perfect a slice of pie - together, the three form a solid dessert triumvirate that makes Caesar Augustus, Marc Antony and Marcus Lepidus look like Bundt cakes. Yes, Bundt cakes. Let's see apple pie do that.

Pumpkin pie has its nutritional benefits as well. Loaded with vitamin A, pumpkin pie is good for eye health and is comparable to other pies such as apple and cherry in fat and calorie content. Pecan and chocolate pies, however, tend to have more fat and more calories than their fruit pie counterparts, making pumpkin pie a clearly superior choice.

Pumpkin pie, however, must be consumed in moderation. "It's like any dessert," said Courtney Eby, a Registered Dietician at Northfield Hospital. Much of the fat content in any pie comes from the pie's crust, and Eby recommended that pies be prepared with low-fat ingredients. Furthermore, Eby advised that aficionados make their own pie filling; homemade pumpkin pie may have as much as twice the vitamin A as store bought versions. When it comes to nutrition, preparation can make all the difference.

Despite the unquestionable flavor and nutritional benefits of pumpkin pie, some students have other preferences for Thanksgiving desserts, and for a variety of reasons. Tor Ole Odden '11, whose family doesn't usually have pumpkin pie, simply found the concept pretty foreign. "I know pumpkin pie is more appropriate in most parts of the country," he said, "but in my family apple pie is more often used." Despite his unfamiliarity with pumpkin pie, Odden strongly favored other pies over pumpkin.

"As an impartial observer, pumpkin pie is completely subservient to apple pie and especially chocolate mousse pie, which dominates the entire pie family," he said. "For the record, the Caf should definitely look into making chocolate mousse pie."

Jacki Werner '11 held similar views of pumpkin pie, citing its texture as her chief displeasure with it. "It doesn't taste bad, but it's kind of mushy," she said. "It's kind of like eating baby food in a crust." Werner favored both French silk pie and pecan pie, calling them "the epitome of deliciousness."

Some upperclassmen were also skeptical of pumpkin pie. Ali Shultz '09 found the concept of putting pumpkin in a pie mystifying. Like Werner and Odden, Schultz favored sweeter pies over pumpkin. "If it had chocolate in it, that'd be different," she said.

Although some students might not recognize pumpkin pie and its utter dominance of the holiday dessert realm, I urge tolerance among my fellow holiday goers. Loyal disciples of pumpkin pie may feel an urge to speak in defense of their beloved pie; please resist. Do not blame your fellow holiday revelers for their transgressions; they do not know what they do. Instead, let bygones be bygones and enjoy the Thanksgiving feast.

Despite the preference of some misled students, pumpkin pie remains a classic holiday dessert. The perfect combination of filling, crust, and spices, pumpkin pie makes a beautiful conclusion to a long, stomach-bursting Thanksgiving dinner. After all, what better way could there be to spend five days away from the Hill than gorging yourself senseless on delicious pie?

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