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Pumpkin Spice Season Is an American Tradition — And It Goes Back to the Pilgrims

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It’s that time of year again: Starbucks has brought back their beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte for the fast-approaching fall season. Despite the summer not quite being over yet, fans of the beverage are clamoring to get their hands on the comforting drink. There’s just something about that particular blend of spices that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But did you know the pumpkin frenzy isn’t a modern craze?

If you dig back far enough, you’ll learn that pumpkin spice is as American a tradition as… well, pumpkin pie. In fact, the love for all things pumpkin-flavored can be dated all the way back to the days of the pilgrims (“We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon,” according to a song from the 1630s. “If it was not for pumpkin we should be undone.”) Later, several of the founding fathers were known for their public admiration of the hardy veggie, with Thomas Jefferson using it to make pies and beers at his home, Monticello.

However, the earliest written account of what we now call pumpkin spice comes courtesy of a woman named Amelia Simmons, who in 1796 published the first known cookbook written in the United States, American Cookery. Its pages included a recipe for a pumpkin-based pudding simply named “pompkin,” which called for sugar, mace, molasses, allspice, and ginger. It was apparently (and understandably) such an incredibly popular spice combination that the recipe continued to be passed down for generations, copied and recopied in other cookbooks. Over 100 years later, the same spices were featured in a pumpkin cake recipe published by the Washington Post in 1936, calling it “tempting to all appetites” and “healthful for children.”

Families enjoying various pumpkin spice cakes, puddings, and other dishes made out of the seasonal gourd used varying amounts of the original spices mentioned in Simmons’ recipe. For example, they might have preferred to go heavy on the allspice and nix the ginger, because everything was still being blended by hand (that meant the easiest condiments to handle were always preferred). It wasn’t until the 1950s that McCormick, one of the most popular spice manufacturers, debuted their “pumpkin pie spice” blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, leading to the combo that we still use today. It’s interesting to note how the addition of cinnamon wasn’t included until this specific blend. 

So, the next time you buy a pumpkin spiced coffee, whip up a creamy pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, or enjoy any of the many other products out there that include the aromatic flavor, remember that you’re taking part in one of the oldest traditions in American history. We’re sure the founding fathers would approve!

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