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Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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How to Make Pumpkin Candy, 1800's American-Style

Compiled by Vicki McClure Davidson


Jack Skellington Jack-O'-Lantern | Photo credit: Weeta, Flickr, Creative Commons some rights reserved
Jack Skellington Jack-O'-Lantern | Photo credit: Weeta, Flickr, Creative Commons


During the fall months, pumpkins in America abound. Aside from carved jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween, roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pudding, pumpkin soup, and, of course, pumpkin pies made in America's home kitchens, what else can be made from pumpkins?


With backyards gardens bursting with these gigantic, glorious gourds and farmers' markets, roadside stands, and supermarkets offering bargain prices at the height of the pumpkin season to unload their huge bounty, don't pass up an opportunity to experiment with pumpkins. They are an extremely rich source of Vitamin A (1 serving, about 1 cup, has a whopping 245 percent of daily value). Pumpkin is also low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. It is also a good source for thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. Additionally, pumpkin offers a good amount of dietary fiber, Vitamin C, copper, riboflavin, potassium, and manganese. One serving of cooked pumpkin has only 49 calories. Some serious nutritional value here for a food that is often used only in pie or Halloween ornamentation. Kinda sad.

Early American cooks discovered many other delicious, unique ways to serve pumpkin... including pumpkin candy.

The pumpkin candy recipe below is easy, but rather time-consuming to make. From start to finish, the candy making process takes a couple of days, although most of that time is spent with the pumpkin softening in lemon juice. When selecting pumpkins for cooking, be sure to purchase sweet pumpkins, which are typically smaller and sweeter for eating than those bought for carving into jack-o'-lanterns. The larger, less sweet ones can be used in cooking, but the flavor will be better with sweet pumpkins.

The following recipe is from Betty Fussell's amazing cookbook of old-time recipes, I Hear America Cooking:

A uniquely American sweet is one made from fresh pumpkin chips. The Indians would cut a pumpkin or squash into two-by-four-inch strips, then soften the strips in a bath of woodashes or lye. Finally, they would boil the strips in sugary syrup, sometimes flavored with cilantro, until the syrup was clear and the chips brittle. Easier probably for the city cook is a device recommended by Eliza Leslie in her Directions for Cookery (1837), in which lemon juice helps to soften the chips and counteract the sweetness of the sugar.


Pumpkin Candy

  • 1-1/2 pounds uncooked pumpkin meat (from a 3- or 4-lb pumpkin)
  • 2 c. sugar
  • Thinly pared rind of 3 lemons
  • 1 c. fresh lemon juice


Cut meat into uniform strips, 4 by 2 inches and 1/4 inch thick. Put the strips in a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar.

Cut the lemon rind into narrow strips. Add to the pumpkin and pour lemon juice over all. Let the mixture stand at least 12 hours or overnight.

Put the mixture in a covered saucepan, bring to a simmer, and simmer gently until the pumpkin becomes translucent but is still firm, about 1 hour.

Remove strips with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Let them dry for 12 hours or overnight. Roll them in granulated sugar or eat them plain. You can also cover them with the syrip and store, refrigerated, where they will keep several weeks.

Makes 3 cups.


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Source: Fussell, Betty, I Hear America Cooking, Viking Penguin, NY, NY, 1986.
Nutrition Data, Pumpkin (cooked, boiled, drained, without salt), (