Pumpkin Pie: Slice of Heaven or Unadulterated Trash? 


Megan: Every year at Thanksgiving, after the turkey and the stuffing and the sad salad someone made “for roughage” is finished, someone pours some coffee and makes space on the table for the absolute worst part of a Thanksgiving dessert table: the pumpkin pie. An unassuming pie shell sits, filled with a brownish-orange sludge that, in the right light, resembles the thick slurry of vomit my cat produces after going hard on the Iams. It smells faintly vegetal (because it’s not actually pumpkin, but a dumb squash), and then cloyingly, nauseatingly sweet upon closer examination—like an autumn-themed Yankee Candle that has been inexplicably melted and baked into a shitty pie.

Nothing is good about it—from the dry and uninspired crust, to the dreaded filling. It’s a pie that should be ashamed of itself—it’s moldy squash! It’s cat food a day or five past its prime! It tastes bad. Leave it.

Anna: Let’s be clear: The only thing that should be ashamed of itself is Thanksgiving, a holiday-length ode to white supremacy and an undeserved celebration of a band of uptight zealot weirdos who should have been allowed to freeze to death. I will not be That Guy right now, but rest assured that I am That Guy.

The sole thing that redeems Thanksgiving is pumpkin pie. It is, first of all, a baked good that not even your most hopelessly kitchen-challenged relative can fuck up—even the simplest version with a frozen pie shell and Libby’s canned filling is delicious. It tastes like cinnamon and hope and it’s texturally perfect, with a comforting, custardy texture inside a flaky crust. You bury it under an enormous pile of whipped cream, you ignore whatever factually and morally wrong debate is happening at the other leaf of the table, and you allow yourself this one damn thing.

And then, Megan, you take the rest of the pie home to your inexplicably nauseated cat and you have that fucker for breakfast. Yes: pumpkin pie is a flawless breakfast food, paired with coffee and leftover tamales and the true contentment of knowing that you won’t have to attend an endless 4 p.m. dinner with your relatives for an entire 364 days.

Winter is 8,000 years long and by the time the holidays are over, we’ve all gone full Shining. We’re talking to ourselves, we’re full of despair, we’re writing book-length rants about cold weather on the walls of our rooms, and some of us are apparently coated in cat barf and dripping with wrong opinions. But at least— even with the shittiest ingredients procured at the bodega by my house that it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize is probably a front for drugs— you can still make another pumpkin pie.

Megan: I’d like to state for the record that my easily-nauseated cat has a delicate system and I am RARELY covered in cat barf—I’m very thorough about cleaning it up—but my intimacy with its texture is one of the main reasons I cannot abide by Anna’s argument. Custard, when executed correctly, is a wonderful thing—jiggly and firm, a true feat of a talented baker. Pumpkin pie’s true evil lies in how deceptively “easy” it is to make—following the recipe on the back of the aforementioned can of Libby’s does not mean that the result will be edible, attractive, or delicious. Professionals fuck this up too; please see Alinea’s pretentious food-person version of “clear” pumpkin pie as an example of why this shit-stain of a baked treat deserves no love. Even if you’ve doggedly followed the instructions, the result will be gummy, overly-sweet and, quite simply, disgusting. Have you ever taken a sip of a pumpkin spice latte and thought to yourself, “God, I wish I could have this exact flavor and mouthfeel in pie form!”?

Of course you haven’t. There’s no reason you would have. Do you want your desserts to taste like potpourri smells—like “apples” and “cinnamon” with a faint hint of pooh? Do you enjoy the sensation of eating a squash that is just past its prime? This horrible pie is definitely for you. If you have any sort of sense or self-respect, you’ll do what you know is right. Throw the pie in the trash and call it a night!!!

Anna: This debate has gotten both heated and extremely personal — Megan and I have been trading insults in Slack for the last 30 minutes as we prepare this post—but I still feel bad about what I’m about to do here.

Pumpkin pie is a simple pleasure that Megan insists on on defiling by likening it to potpourri and the dreaded PSL and whatever is spewing out of her permanently seasick cat. But is it also—did you know—a key part of the history of the anti-slavery movement? Oh yes. Yes it fucking is.

According to this History Channel post I dug up just a second ago in my frenzy to make a point, pumpkin pie became synonymous with abolitionism:

Many of the staunchest abolitionists were from New England, and their favorite dessert soon found mention in novels, poems and broadsides. Sarah Josepha Hale, an abolitionist who worked for decades to have Thanksgiving proclaimed a national holiday, featured the pie in her 1827 anti-slavery novel “Northwood,” describing a Thanksgiving table laden with desserts of every name and description—“yet the pumpkin pie occupied the most distinguished niche.” In 1842 another abolitionist, Lydia Maria Child, wrote her famous poem about a New England Thanksgiving that began, “Over the river, and through the wood” and ended with a shout, “Hurra for the pumpkin pie!”

Yeah, dude. A vote for pumpkin pie isn’t just a vote for simple, reliable, satisfying, cinnamon-and-clove goodness, topped with maybe some praline ice cream if you want some more crunchy bits. It’s a vote for sweet, sweet justice.

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