A Google Books Ngram of Pumpkin Pie Spice and Pumpkin Spice

Mother Earth's children; the frolics of the fruits and vegetables (1914) - from Internet Archive on Flickr

We are at the edge of pumpkin and pumpkin spice season, with the peak still ahead of us, so I thought it would be fun to run three pumpkin terms through the Ngrams Viewer from Google Books:  pumpkin pie, pumpkin pie spice, and pumpkin spice.  For those not familiar with the tool, The Ngrams Viewer tool searches the Google Books library of digitized printed materials, which is mostly books but also includes periodicals, for the terms you request (with numerous variations allowed, as explained in the documentation).

Pumpkin Pie, Pie Spice, and Spice

Here is the Ngram chart for the three terms (link) from 1800 to 2019:

Not surprisingly, pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin spice do not appear until the mid-to-late 20th century. Pumpkin pie spice was probably created by one of the big spice houses (like McCormick), while pumpkin spice is a much more recent creation of the food and drink industry.    

Although it makes a cool chart, the Ngram tool is not well suited for pumpkin spice because so much its use is outside of Google Books’ reach:  advertisements, web documents, marketing materials, and other non-book items.  For a better assessment you’d want to cover social media like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, as well as magazines and newspapers. With those items in the mix, I’m confident that pumpkin spice would tower over “pumpkin pie” and “pumpkin pie spice.”

Pumpkin Pie Spice and Pumpkin Spice

If we remove the pie from the search, we can focus on the spices (link).  Pumpkin spice was almost unused before 2000, and had its big rise in the mid-2000s, and was still rising in 2019.

Pumpkin pie spice, on the other hand, has its origin in the mid-20th century. A post-war blip, another blip around 1960, and then a long rise starting around 1970, with peaks and valleys, until a major increase in use in the mid-2000s (perhaps driven by pumpkin spice mania).

Pumpkin Pie in 1855

For a taste of the old times, here’s a pumpkin pie recipe from The Improved Housewife: Or Book of Receipts, with Engravings for Marketing and Carving by Mrs. A. L. Webster, (Phillips, Sampson, and Company, Boston and New York), 1855:

245. Pumpkin Pie
Halve, seed, rinse, slice into small strips, and stew the pumpkin over a gentle fire, in just water enough to prevent burning to the bottom of the pot. After stewed soft, pour off the water, and steam the pumpkin about eighteen minutes, over a slow fire, seeing that it does not burn. Take it off and strain it, when cool, through a sieve. Put to a quart of the pumpkin, twelve eggs and two quarts of milk, if you wish the pies very rich. Put to a quart of the pumpkin, three eggs and one quart of milk if you wish them plain. If very plain put to a quart, one egg, with a spoonful of flour, and very little milk. The more thinned the pumpkin, the greater the number of eggs required. Sweeten the pumpkin to the taste, with sugar beaten with the egg, and very little molasses. Lemon peel, nutmeg, and ginger, are good seasoning for the pies. As they require a hot oven, have the pumpkin scalding hot at the time of putting it into the plates, to prevent the rim of the pies getting burnt before the inside is sufficiently baked. Bake as soon as the plates are filled, to prevent the crust becoming clammy. The fewer the eggs in the pies, the longer the time required to bake them. Pumpkin may be kept several months in cold weather, by making it, after stewed, very sweet and strong of ginger, and then scalding it well. Keep it in a cool place, in a stone jar. Take out what you want at any time, and put to it the milk and eggs.

It’s quite a different style than the vast majority of today’s recipes: completely narrative, variations in the middle of the text.

Halloween postcard, circa 1908, showing four pumpkin creatures cutting a cake and celebrating
Halloween postcard, circa 1908

NASA’s “Pumpkin Suits”

To find fun pictures of pumpkins that I could use in this post, I entered “pumpkin” into Flick Commons, and selected the orange filter. Many of the remaining photos were from NASA, which seemed odd — is NASA growing pumpkin plants in space or something like that? The answer is less exciting: apparently NASA sometimes calls the bright orange flight suits “pumpkin suits”, as in the photo below.

Photo of a person wearing a NASA Pumpkin Suit.  Title of photo is Ambient Pressure Integrated Suit Test (APIST). One PGATA, one ACES (ACES in the seat).  From NASA's Flickr Commons collection
“Pumpkin Suit – Ambient Pressure Integrated Suit Test (APIST)” (NASA’s caption)

Links to Ngrams
Visualization of pumpkin pie, pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin spice 1900-2019 from Google Books Ngram Viewer.
Visualization of pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin spice 1900-2019 from Google Books Ngram Viewer.

Image Credits

Originally published December 16, 2016

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