In these days of 200-mile locavore meals and freshness trumping shelf life so much of the time, why does canned pumpkin remain so firmly entrenched in our lives? It’s not like we’re just talking about some starchy tuber like the potato. This is the pumpkin, the friendly fruit that makes a dessert arguably more American than apple pie. But when it comes time to put pumpkin in the oven, recipe hockers from Sandra Lee to Saveur open the can.

Obviously, it wasn’t always this way. The pumpkin was used in uncanned form by the Native Americans, who not only ate it, but also wove dry pumpkin strips into mats. When the colonists showed up on the scene, hungry and sick of boats, they incorporated the pumpkin into their cuisine. According to the Cooperative Extension at the University of Illinois, “The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off… More…