Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice is everywhere. Nielsen says sales of pumpkin-flavored items raked in $414 million in the U.S. between the end of July 2016 and end of July 2017. That’s up from $286 million in the same period of time in 2013. But, pumpkin wasn’t always a culinary star.
Cindy Ott, author of Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon, explains that among colonial American settlers, pumpkin “was a food of last resort.” For example, while pumpkin beer is a seasonal treat now, back then using fermented pumpkin to make beer was cheaper than using grains. Ott writes, “‘Pumpkin eater,’ or ‘pumpkin roller,’ was a derogatory term for a poor, ignorant farmer.”
In the mid-19th century pumpkins made a comeback with nostalgic Americans, and that’s when pumpkin pie was born. By the 20th century, farmers began growing them again, selling them to those from the city who would visit on the weekends. Ott concludes, “The pumpkin became a commodity because of the image it represents about rural life.”