Thanksgiving Pudding: What's Your Pleasure?

My dear friend, Miz B., who moved to this country from her native Britain 14 years ago, refers to all desserts as "pudding." Although it took me a while to get used to her choice of nomenclature, I've come to prefer it over the word "sweets," which really, in my opinion, should be used only when referring to candy.

But at the end of the meal, the choice of word is irrelevant (and it gets really confusing if you read the history books); what's important, particularly with regards to Thanksgiving, is that a sweet ending exists after all that hard labor plowing through stuffing, gravy and mashed tubers. Thanksgiving just isn't the same without dessert, I mean pudding.

By the time the British colonists arrived in 1620, they were already eating "pye." To wit, a few lines from a poem by 17th century poet William King:

Of all the delicates which Britons try
To please the palate of delight the eye,

Of all the sev'ral kings of sumptuous far,

There is none that can with applepie compare.

The apples at the time of Plymouth Rock were more like crab apples, and it would be many years before seeds and pollinating honeybees that were imported from England would yield orchards and an apple-eating culture on this side of the Atlantic.

Chances were better that you'd eat a "pye" of stewed pumpkin, sweet potatoes or persimmons, native to North American soil and known as the "putchamin."

By 1796, when Amelia Simmons published "American Cookery," there were recipes for apple pie as well as "Marlborough Pudding," a pie of stewed apples, sherry and cream.

And our native fruit, the cranberry, seems to have appeared in pie as early as 1672, according to "Giving Thanks," by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver and the Plimoth Plantation.

History plays more of a role in Thanksgiving pudding than I ever realized. All those classics -- apple, cranberry, mincemeat, pumpkin -- have deep roots, which further underscores the importance of dessert (I mean, pudding) on the table this Thursday.

So what's your pudding pleasure? And does it have to be pie to feel like Thanksgiving? Do you steer in the direction of the colonial classics -- or do you prefer the 20th-century notion of a pecan pie (which apparently did not become popular until the 1920s in places like Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, where pecans grow)?

Over the years, I've been known to dabble, experimenting with all the classics as well as post-modern twists.

In the pumpkin department, I've done pie with silken tofu as well as with a luscious topping of streuseled pecans. I've done bread pudding, too. Yesterday's Food section offers up a tart marrying pumpkin with pecans and buttermilk.

Over in apple land, I love the yin-yang of my pie with rosemary and pine nuts; for another variation, check out big apple pie from Maida Heatter, by way of pastry guru Nick Malgieri.

If you haven't had enough cranberry sauce, America's native fruit figures beautifully into Thanksgiving's final course. I've had great results with Emily Luccheti's upside down cranberry pumpkin cake, which I am tempted to make again this year. It is so gorgeous it makes everyone blush and ask for more. Cranberries are also wonderful in crisp, with apples, and lead the way in a cream cheesey tart.

Now, I'll stop here, because I need your help. I'm fresh out of tried-and-true pecan pie recipes or details for other southern pie classics, such as sweet potato or buttermilk. Let's make this a Thanksgiving pudding party -- and let the recipe exchange begin!

By Kim ODonnel |  November 19, 2007; 9:43 AM ET Desserts , Thanksgiving
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Thanks Kim -- your Cranberry Pumpkin Upside Down Cake may have just solved my dessert quandry. My BF loves pumpkin pie -- I hate the texture. I think this will be a perfect compromise!

Posted by: Veggie in DC | November 19, 2007 10:51 AM

The November edition of Bon Apetit has some beautiful desserts in it. I made the Maple Pecan tart, which with the exception of the crust being a tad difficult to work with was delicious and simple. It will likely be re-made as my contribution to Thanksgiving. They also have a cranberry tart with a chocolate cookie crust and a marscarpone middle (the cranberries are on the top) that intrigued me.

Posted by: Dessert lover | November 19, 2007 11:28 AM


That was me in the Chefs on Call article. The Pear Harvest was a fabulous 'pudding'. It was light and refreshing. It'd be great after dinner with some gingersnaps or molasses cookies. Who says you have to have cake, pies or tarts?

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | November 19, 2007 11:40 AM

My family doesn't do a traditional Thanksgiving, so this year we are having sherbet for dessert. I want to bring a hot drink to pair with it (like Irish Coffee), but I need to find something universally appealling and that isn't it. It works out - our first and main course will be so heavy we didn't feel a need to have a heavy dessert too.

But as far as traditional Thanksgiving goes, I'm a punkin pie girl all the way. I love it because it is so smooth and spicy, without being too sweet. It's best when it is pie and something crustless, because some of the joy comes from the contrast between the pie crust and the filling.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | November 19, 2007 11:59 AM

My contribution to Thanksgiving will be simple: rice krispie treats. I know this is elementary, but I am traveling on Thanksgiving Day and I need something that travels well. I am going to add toffee chips to my batch to give it a little kick. Dried cranberries would be a nice addition, but I have none and don't want to go grocery shopping. If anything, I know my nieces, nephews, and dear hubby will enjoy them! I am not the only one bringing 'pudding' so I think I am safe!

To DC Cubefarm:

I don't know if this will go well with sherbet, but have you considered doing hot apple cider? You can get some apple cider, pour it into a crock pot, slice up an orange and throw it in along with 4 or 5 cinnamon sticks. Let it heat up and it's a nice fall treat. If you want to zing it up a bit, you can even add 1/4 cup orange juice. It's not hard and it tastes delicious!

Posted by: iluvcooking | November 19, 2007 12:30 PM

I love to do Indian pudding at Thanksgiving. Cornmeal, cooked long and slow with milk, molasses, gentle spices, and maybe a little grated apple, served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream -- It seems respectful of the history, a little different, and very delicious.

Posted by: Mel | November 19, 2007 12:36 PM

My contribution to my MiL's Thanksgiving and Christmas is sweet potato pie with a nut crust. It's the only pie ever there--they are cake people, and I am not.

Posted by: Pru | November 19, 2007 12:44 PM

I am really enjoying reading your blog. Thanks for all the tips for Thanksgiving. I am planning on making apple pie and pumpkin pie. I would love to make them on Tuesday or Wednesday. Will the pies still taste good and be edible 2 days later? Should I refrigerate them?

Posted by: Ellen | November 19, 2007 1:19 PM

I'm thinking gingerbread with lemon sauce since I'm the only one in my family that likes pumpkin pie. I want something instead of a chocolate dessert or a fruit pie.

I got a great tip from a dietician the other day. She bakes pumpkin pie filling in a pie plate without the crust and eats it for breakfast.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Posted by: rmh | November 19, 2007 2:13 PM

I am going to try our pumpkin pie with a graham cracker crust this year, but I am going to use the new Gingerbread grahams that are out now (Keebler or Nabisco, I forget which). Maybe an added pinch of ground ginger and cinnamon, or crystallized ginger when I pulverize the crackers into crumbs. Looking forward to it.

Happy T-day to all!

Posted by: twist on graham crust | November 19, 2007 3:01 PM

I always try to do something a bit different for dessert, sometimes a variation on pumpkin or sweet potato pie, sometimes some dessert other than a pie. One year we did all regional Mexican food for Thanksgiving, and I made a pumpkin flan. This year it is just my husband, my sister, and me - so I am going to make a small batch of Pecan Tassies, which we will eat with some vanilla ice cream.

Posted by: Susan | November 19, 2007 4:02 PM

I am trying pumpkin creme brulee this year for a different twist. I may make a batch of spicy ginger cookies as well.

Posted by: Allison | November 19, 2007 4:35 PM

I'm making a pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving (I like the idea of pumpkin, but hate the texture of pumpkin pie) and I'm thinking of trying a recipe in the most recent issue of Cottage Living for a maple pear pie, only I'm going to substitute persimmons for the pears if a coworker of mine remembers to bring in the ones growing in her yard. I've never had persimmons before, so this could be interesting.

Posted by: Sarah | November 19, 2007 4:42 PM

I recently made 2 Persimmon Puddings, which are wonderful by themselves as well as with some English Custard flavoured with rum. Put some Pomegranate seeds on top, too. Also, an Apple Sour Cream Pie.

This makes it more traditional, since I'm doing a Lasagne with Sunday Gravy instead of Turkey this year.

Posted by: jonquille | November 19, 2007 5:15 PM

I make a chocolate boubon pecan pie every year for Thanksgiving. We're all adults at the table and it just has this traditional yet warm feeling. It's just like your typical pecan pie but with less syrup and more bourbon (1/3 cup) and semi sweet chocolate chips (1/2 cup). This is always a hit!

Posted by: Jennifer | November 19, 2007 5:21 PM

Kim, bless you for this amazing list. (And I'm SO sorry I called you Liz in last weeks chat!)

Posted by: Omaha | November 19, 2007 5:27 PM

I saw an old recipe for Marlborough Pie years ago, tried it, and fell completely for it. So deliciously applesaucy and lemony and perfect for breakfast (booze-free version). I may sneak it into my relatives' feast - they are huge apple fans.

Posted by: Maritza | November 19, 2007 5:29 PM

I love swett potato pie! It's a must have for Thanksgiving!

Posted by: Alaskan Reader | November 19, 2007 5:44 PM

We prefer sweet potato pie to pumpkin, and my mom's sweet potato pie is legendary in my family. But alas, we're all converging in Orlando this year and she won't be able to make her masterwork pies! I'm thinking I'd like to make pie along side her sometime, write down her recipe, and then kick it up a notch on my own. I'm sure mine will never compare to hers (and everyone in my family will gleefully inform me of the obvious), but I'd like to roast the sweet potatoes rather than boil, whip the egg whites before folding them into the potato puree, and add some sort of citrus zest. Sounds almost like sweet potato mousse!

Posted by: Sean | November 19, 2007 7:03 PM

For DC Cubefarm - if you go with the Hot Apple cider idea, you can always have a a bottle of Tuaca alongside for those who like it harder. The orange/vanilla of tuaca goes amazingly well with hot cider and it does not get overly appley the way cider with apple schnapps does.

Posted by: mdsail | November 19, 2007 7:22 PM

Several years ago my alternative Thanksgiving dessert was a fall version of Dump Cake, made with spice cake mix, crushed pineapple, apple pie filling and a handful of dried cranberries tossed in for color. It was easy, my family loved it and the pumpkin pie went begging that year. Last year, the dessert of choice was apricot cake; our backup dessert is usually ice cream with cranberry dessert sauce (family recipe) spooned over it.

I agree: it isn't Thanksgiving without a pumpkin pie somewhere on the premises. But it's fun to get creative, particularly when there's a big crowd around to eat the results!

Posted by: Caroline C. | November 19, 2007 8:06 PM

This year we are having Pumpkin Spice Torte with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting ... and then for breakfast on Friday, I'm making a Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake with Buttermilk Icing. I have made the Torte in previous years with a butterscotch frosting, but this year we will try the maple frosting. Yummy!

Posted by: peapod | November 19, 2007 9:07 PM

We're having cherry pie, apple crisp (warmed with good vanilla ice cream), banana bread, and chocolate pecan pie squares.

yum - think I gained 7 pounds just typing all that :-)

Posted by: Germantown | November 19, 2007 9:44 PM

Ellen: Make those pies on Wednesday, if at all possible. If you're making your own pie dough, you can do that on Tuesday to break up the work. Keep wrapped in foil; pumpkin pie should be refrigerated because of its dairy and egg inclusion (usually).

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 19, 2007 9:51 PM

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