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Old Thanksgiving - Pie Nation and The Great Uninvited Guests

Updated on November 21, 2021
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty collects recipes and gadgets from the past and is particularly interested in Early American and Indigenous Peoples and cuisines.

The Three Sisters of Native Americana on a $1.00 coin.
The Three Sisters of Native Americana on a $1.00 coin.

The First Surprise Party

As American as apple pie, you say? I recently read a news column that began with the following question:

Pumpkin or Mincemeat, which says “Thanksgiving” more?

Surprise! Considering that historic day back in 1621's Plymouth Colony, then neither choice given is the answer, because there was no pie as we know it on that day.

The event turned out to be a total surprise party as well.

Chief Massasoit meets settlers and their leaders.
Chief Massasoit meets settlers and their leaders. | Source

The Englishmen of Plymouth invited one Native American gentleman to have dinner with them, but in the sharing tradition of his indigenous nation, the invited quest brought about 98 relatives and friends with him.

Fortunately, they brought food as well: corn, squash, pumpkins, several wild game fowl, and 5 deer.

I can just see the children laughing at the look on their elders’ faces when about 100 “Indians” came to dinner with large game animals in tow.

That was probably the first party in America to which too many uninvited guests showed up and the tradition has endured for 400 years, despite Emily Post. Too many guests at weddings and dinners have plagued special events here for centuries.

Skipping ahead to the 20thcentury, when the Canadian and American governments declared official days of thanksgiving as federal holidays, America had already become "Pie Nation." Settlers and immigrants from around the globe brought pie recipes with them - everything from fruit pies, jam pies, egg pies, sugar pies, vegetable pies, and vinegar pies to various meat pies.

We bake dozens of varieties of pies for special events like that in the famous Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Day portrait, Freedom From Want. In the 2000s, pies are an integral part of our holidays and celebrations. They can all say “Thanksgiving.” So, how do we make pies?

Some pie recipes follow below, but remember that the First Thanksgiving pies were crestless, because there was no grain available to make flour. The local Native Americans had acorn flour, but I can find no records of them using flours to make pie crusts, their related dishes being crustless and more like puddings.

Any pies at the 1621 celebration were made without crusts.

— The Ohio State University Indigenous Studies Department
Photo of Normal Rockwell's "Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey", 1917.
Photo of Normal Rockwell's "Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey", 1917. | Source

Miracles - A Flaky Pie Crust

Let’s start with the pie dough. There are several recipes for pie dough, but a lot of home bakers search for the perfect recipe for a flaky crust. A couple of tips help with that.

First, it's important not to handle the pie dough too much, because it can become too tough fairly quickly. Pie dough is not bread and does not need to be kneaded.

Second, it helps to cut in only half of the fat you use with the flour, and then to cut in the second half of the fat, rather than to do it all at once. I've done this successfully with shortening, butter, and margarine, but it also works with lard.

Pie Dough

  • 2 Cups all purpose flour (I've also used whole wheat)
  • 2/3 stick of butter, up to 1 whole stick of butter [or margarine or lard] -- This would be from 5 Tablespoons (marked on the wrapper), up to the whole stick. If the air is very dry on the day that you bake, use more butter. Increasing the water used will make a tough or hard ring of dough around the pie pan.
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • OPTIONAL – 2 or 3 Tbsp. sugar for a sweet crust. Brown or white sugar are both good for this.
  • 5-6 Tablespoons of cold water


  • Place the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir to combine.
  • Cut in one-half of the butter with two knives or a pastry cutter, until the mixture forms globules that look about the size of peas.
  • Cut in the second half of the butter, until you see the mixture looking like very coarse meal. If you see something that looks like sand, you have over processed the mixture and it might come out baked like a cookie.
  • Add cold water a spoonful at a time and toss with a fork until you have a smooth ball – not wet and not sticky. Divide the ball in half and roll the bottom crust on a clean, floured surface with a floured rolling pin.
  • Drape the bottom crust carefully over the rolling pin, transfer it to an 8” or 9” pie pan, and arrange it as needed.
  • Roll out the top crust when needed and drape it over the filling in the same way, crimp the edges of both crusts together in a decorative way.
  • Slice a few small air vents in the center around the top crust to allow cooking gasses to escape.

If you need only one crust, you can freeze the second one for 6 months, or you can cut the recipe in half.

Thanksgiving and Christmas Fillings

In honor of the first uninvited guests, here are some great fillings made from the Three Sisters of the Native Americans – Squash, Corn And Beans.

Butternut Squash Pie

  • 1 medium sized butternut squash
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch each of ground allspice, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg
  • 1 unbaked 9" pie shell

Peel and cube the squash. Steam squash for 15 minutes until fork tender. Drain, and cool. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a blender, combine squash, brown sugar, cornstarch, egg, milk, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Blend until smooth. Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Bake in 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Zucchini Filling

  • 7 cups of sliced zucchini - pared, seeds removed, sliced crosswise into ¼” thick slices.
  • 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoon flour
  • 1 ½ tablespoon cream of tartar
  • 1 ½ tablespoon cinnamon
  • Dash of salt and nutmeg
  • 1 unbaked 9" pie shell


  • ½ stick margarine, 1 cup flour, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place sliced zucchini in boiling water, reduce heat and simmer until tender- crisp. Drain and cool. Add remaining ingredients; mix, place in pie shell. Mix topping ingredients and sprinkle on top of filling. Bake 1 hour.

Yellow Squash "Pie" - No Crust

  • 2 Cups yellow squash, cooked and drained
  • 4 Whole eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 Cup granulated sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons lemon extract
  • 9-inch pie plate

Lightly butter or cooking spray a pie plate. In mixing bowl, put cooked and drained squash, eggs, and sugar together and stir. Add lemon extract, stir and pour into the pie plate. Bake 40 minutes until custard consistency is achieved. Serve cold for dessert.

Bean Filling

  • 1 unbaked 9" pie crust
  • 3 (15 or 16 oz) cans any bean, drained and mashed
  • 3 Large eggs
  • 1/4 Cup melted salted butter
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ginger, and cloves
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Cup evaporated milk
  • 1 Cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. All ingredients except pie crust and stir well. Pour into pie crust and bake 15 minutes. Lower heat to 350 and bake 30 minutes, until center of pie is set.

Corn and Bean Pie

  • ! pie crust (bottom crust only)
  • 3 Cups cooked kidney beans & the lquid
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 Cup celery, chopped
  • 1 whole green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 Cup tomatoes, stewed
  • 1 Cup corn
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 Cup sliced black olives - save some of the liquid
  • Shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Steam vegetables in 4 Tablespoons of liquid from olives, until onion is transparent. Add the seasonings, kidney beans, and reserved liquid, stir, and pour into the pie crust. Bake 30 minutes and remove from oven. Top with olives, and shredded cheese, bake 10 minutes longer, and serve.

No deer pie today.
No deer pie today. | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 Patty Inglish MS


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