Many Thanksgiving meals conclude with pumpkin pie—fittingly, since the pumpkin is a New World crop. But it was also a crop that didn’t take long to find its way onto Old World tables, in part because of Jews, who made it a staple of their own cuisine. Paola Gavin explains:
Pumpkins were first introduced to Europe by the conquistadors in the 16th century, where they were quickly adopted by Sephardi Jews, who then introduced them to Italy after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Sephardim and Italian Jews not only began trading in pumpkins, they also incorporated the new gourd into numerous dishes both sweet and savory—especially soups, puddings, fritters, cakes, and preserves—so much so that the new vegetable became associated with Jews. As Claudia Roden writes in The Book of Jewish Food, tortellini di zucca gialla (pumpkin ravioli) “is said to be a Jewish legacy.”
Soon every Jewish community around the Mediterranean and beyond developed its own pumpkin specialties. . . . Farther afield, Bukharan Jews celebrate the New Year with bichak (savory pumpkin pastries) while the Baghdadi Jews of Bombay (now Mumbai) enjoy pumpkin preserves flavored with cardamom.