Just in Time for Fall: Pumpkin Pilhi from Pitcairn Island!

I am fortunate to have located what may be the only cookbook published in Pitcairn Island, ”Pitcairn Island Cookbook”, by Irma Christian. Irma was born and raised on Pitcairn Island and is a descendant of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian wives, specifically, Fletcher Christian. In 1789, the British ship “Bounty” was on her way home from Tahiti, when Fletcher Christian decided he could no longer live in close association with the captain, Captain Bligh. Although the plan was to desert the ship, Christian was encouraged to take over the ship, as others had similar complaints about Bligh. Mutiny resulted and Bligh and eighteen loyal officers were cast adrift in the ship’s boat. Christian and his brigade followed earlier accounts of Pitcairn Island, and hence sailed in that direction, arriving at Pitcairn Island in 1790. Pitcairn Island is located between Easter Island and Tahiti.

Pitcairn Island Cookbook by Irma Christian

Pitcairn Island Cookbook by Irma Christian

The island supports a variety of fruits and vegetables, including coconuts, bananas, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, pumpkin, arrowroot, yams, cucumbers, cabbage, tomatoes, beetroot and guava, but there are others. With only 2 square miles of arable land, only a portion of that is flat and easily tillable, therefore, gardens are also cultivated on the plateau.

Location of Pitcairn Island

Location of Pitcairn Island

“Pumpkin Pilhi” is made from mashed cooked pumpkin, flour, baking powder, sugar and coconut milk and baked for about an hour in a 350-degree oven. “Pilhi” is pureed fruit of some kind and baked in a custard form. There are also recipes for “Sweet Potato Pilhi” and “Breadfruit Pilhi”.

Who wouldn’t be fascinated by a recipe entitled “Humpus Bumpus”? Take a cup of mashed bananas, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of arrowroot flour and spices (your preference), make into patties and fry in some oil.

According to Wikipedia, the population of Pitcairn Island was at its peak in 1936, with 250 inhabitants. In the year Irma Christian published her cookbook, 1986, the population was down to 68 and last year, 2012, it had shrunk to 48. Truly, Pitcairn Island reminds me of the popular TV show “Cheers”, “where everybody knows your name”! As for the reason in the population decline, I refer to Irma’s vocabulary at the end of her book: in Pitcairn, “carfoot”, which translates as “don’t know why”.

About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,500. What next? More shelves?
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3 Responses to Just in Time for Fall: Pumpkin Pilhi from Pitcairn Island!

  1. Wow…how fascinating to have been in touch with her. How did that happen….did you have copy of her cookbook? Thanks for reading and commenting on the post!

  2. Eugene Paradis says:

    I talked with Irma on hamradio and also with Tom..I heard that Irma moved back to Newzealand..It was fun…My call KA1LWR..Gene at the time I lived in Fairfiled Maine…I am now in Oakland Maine..

  3. Pingback: Saturday Shout Out #1: Nadine Christian | The Literary Syndicate

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