Pumpkins have always held an important place in our festive autumn fun, whether it’s carving, painting or just using them as outside décor. In fact, long before it became a symbol of Halloween, the Irish invented pumpkin carving as a means to ward off evil spirits. As the tradition migrated to North America, the fruit that was once thought to ward off evil spirits began to influence the settlers in a more nutritious way.
Pumpkins originated in Central America, with the oldest evidence of pumpkin fragments dating between 7000 and 5500 BC. Pumpkins have been grown all over the world for a multitude of purposes ranging from commercial growth to ornamental sales. The United States is the fifth leading pumpkin producer worldwide, with Illinois producing about 95% of the country’s pumpkins. The biggest pumpkin grown to date was in Germany, October 12th 2014, by Beni Meier with a record weight of 2,323 pounds.
There are a total of 45 different types of pumpkins grown around the world, and like many fruits these pumpkins come in various shapes and sizes. The standard orange pumpkin is the category we are most familiar with. It comes in small, intermediate and large sizes. A few other categories of pumpkins include the Rouge Vif d’Estampes, Jumbo, Cushaw, Miniature and processed canned pumpkins, each with their own sub-types.
From a nutritional standpoint, pumpkins are low in calories at 49 calories per cup, 90% water and provide a fantastic source of fiber, vitamin A, C, E and potassium to the diet. Pumpkins are also one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene which is a powerful antioxidant that gives pumpkins their vibrant color. Some additional benefits include regulating blood pressure, reducing the risk of certain cancers and protection against age-related eye problems.
Growing pumpkins tends to be a more delicate process for they are sensitive to cold. It is best to begin planting in late May or early June due to their long growing season. When selecting a planting site, a sunny spot with enough space for the vines to spread is best. Pumpkins are a very high-maintenance fruit requiring 1 inch of water per week, but they should be kept dry to avoid rotting and disease. They grow best with regular treatments of manure or compost as well as fertilizer and require turning of the fruit to encourage an even shape. To harvest a pumpkin, select a dry day as this makes it easier to cut the vine. The deep, solid, orange skin will indicate ripeness.
When storing a pumpkin, it’s essential to cure for one week in the sun first. This process enables the pumpkin skin to harden, promotes the sealing of small openings, and will encourage a longer storage time period. It’s best to store in a cool, dry room at 55°F.
Pumpkins are notorious for sneaking their way into our favorite hot lattes and scrumptious desserts, but they are also the perfect fruit to flavor up a soup or pasta dishes.
A few recipes that include pumpkins are: