The development of pumpkins

The word pumpkin comes from the Greek word “pepon” meaning large melon. Pumpkins have been cultivated for over 5,000 years. They originated in Mexico and Central America where they were cultivated for food, bowls, and cooperage. Often the natives would cultivate pumpkins, beans, and corn together since the three offered a mutually beneficial “symbiotic” growing relationship. The beans would grow up the corn stalks, the corn would shield the pumpkins from direct exposure to sunlight, and the pumpkins would replenish the soil.

A vintage squash

Courtesy image

Pumpkins were a staple for the early growers and they would eat the seeds, fruits and flowers. The fruits and husk were dried and pounded into mats and flour so it could be stored for use during the winter months. European settlers soon learned of this staple and used pumpkins as food, dessert, soup, and beer. The original pumpkin pie was made by opening the top of the pumpkin, removing the seeds, filling the cavity with milk, honey, and spices, then cooking the fruit in hot ashes. Pumpkin seeds were distributed across the globe and are now found in nearly every continent. These pumpkins have been developed for tolerance of local climatic conditions, size, sweetness, unique appearance, seed production, and resistance to disease.

Today there are hundreds of pumpkin varieties, placed in one of five categories based on size: Giants > 20 lbs., Jack –o-Lantern 7 – 20 lbs, Small or “pie” pumpkins 4 – 7 lbs, Baby pumpkins 1- 3 pounds, and Miniature pumpkins < 1 lb. Nearly 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown each year in the United States, most of which go into processing. Illinois is the greatest producer of commercial pumpkins. The current Guinness world record pumpkin was grown in Quebec, Canada and weighed 1,818.5 lbs, but a pumpkin weighing more than 2,000 lbs has recently been documented in Massachusetts.

Pumpkins are rich in iron, calcium, zinc, vitamins E, A, and C, and they have a lot of dietary fiber. They are low in calories and saturated fats. Pumpkins are considered to be a super food by many dieticians.

Nature Notes for 11/3/2013