The pioneer Christmas was very humble, with handmade gifts, decorations and foods dried and preserved from harvests. There may have been fresh game gracing the tables, but winters were harsh in most areas that the pioneers settled in, so even fresh game may not have been on those early pioneer tables, however there may have been dried meats and dried fruits, berries and nuts.
The tradition of Christmas in American of course was brought with each culture that acknowledged the occasion, each of those early pioneers had their own traditions, however the meager resources in those times meant being creative and using what was available on the land.
Some may have had evergreen trees as their Christmas tree, but not all areas had access to those trees and many of the early cabins were simply too small to find a space for a tree.
Wreaths and swags using multiple natural materials were more likely than a Christmas tree. Bare branches, dried apples and other fruits were most likely used as decorations. Gifts were as humble as the meals that were prepared. There may have been yarn, reed or jute dolls, cornhusk dolls, embroidered hankies, fragrant sachets and tussie mussies for the females, and carved wooden toys for the males. But most gift items would have been practical, such as knitted socks, scarves and sweaters, and only the few items that could be tucked into the stockings.
Stockings were hung and anticipation of Saint Nicholas were a part of those traditions even with those of Christian faith. Yule logs were a part of tradition, as a symbol of good luck or better luck for the coming year.
Most families trudged off to church on Christmas morning, wearing their finest attire, and returned to open gifts and feast on the foods that were available. They then spent the remainder of the day visiting family, friends and neighbors, exchanging small gifts and homemade treats.
Early on, the pioneers cooked on open hearths, so the foods they prepared were boiled or baked in cast iron cookware or in the hot ashes from the fire. They did not have a lot of cooking utensils, so the foods prepared would have been prepared days ahead of time to make room for the foods that needed to be fresh the day of serving. Plum puddings and apple pies were made ahead of time and allowed the flavors to blend if not slightly ferment since there was no refrigeration.
Vinegar pie, puddings, bread and biscuits, potatoes, root vegetables, corn and meat graced the tables of those early pioneers, but would have been a far cry from our current table fare. Regardless, through the generations Christmas has been a celebration and day of thanks for the many blessings upon all nations, regardless of individual faith and belief, it is recognized around the world if not fully celebrated.
EARLY AMERICAN PUMPKIN PIE in a Pumpkin Shell
Yield: 1 Small Pumpkin Pie
1 Pumpkin (about 4-5 pounds)
Spices~~Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Mace, Allspice or Apple pie spice ( to taste)
1/2 cup Sugar, honey or molasses (to taste)
Cut up the apples, add sugar and spice or honey and spice, tossing to cover the apples. Pour into the prepared pumpkin shell. Bake in the pumpkin shell at 350 degrees until the apples are tender. Serve in the pumpkin shell with a wooden spoon for serving.
Refer to my instructions for preparing a pumpkin shell:
Refer to my instructions for making a rustic Vinegar Pie:
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