In Praise of the Pumpkin

Explore Autumn's ubiquitous squash. The pumpkin is a fall fruit with a rich heritage and flexible flavor that has been used for centuries.

  • Musquee de Provence
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  • Long Island Cheese
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  • Toasted pumpkin seeds Place cleaned seeds on a shallow baking pan. Toast at 350°F for 20 minutes. Cool and enjoy immediately or
    Photo courtesy Fotolia/klsbear
  • Omaha Pumpkin
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  • New England Sugar Pie Pumpkins
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  • Pumpkin Storage: Pumpkins can be stored, often for many months, but they must be kept about freezing at all times. Many of the native homes, as well as those of early European settlers, often dropped well below freezing in cold weather, so they had to dry the fruits to preserve them. Pumpkins store best at about 65°F, and preferably in fairly low humidity, which means they are easy to store in modern homes—an unheated spare bedroom or often even a relatively dry basement suits them. They can also be cooked and frozen, or canned, typically as a puree.
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  • Rouge Vif D'Etampes Also called the Cinderella Pumpkin, this delicately shaped fruit truly epitomizes the grace you'd expect from a pumpkin that changed into her beautiful coach. Oblate, and sometimes concave at the stem, the blossom ends of the fruit, and deep red-orange, ribbed skin, all make an almost unbelievably beautiful picture. The fine-grained flesh is sweet and golden-yellow. This variety has been grown in France for centuries.
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  • Punkin' Chunkin' One of the more unusual pumpkin uses would have to be as a projectile! Every year in the sleepy burg of Estancia, N.M., an annual event is held by the local Rotary Club. Contestants vie with one another to see how far they can lob a pumpkin. The contest, now in its 18th year, benefits a local scholarship fund.
    Photo courtesy Mountain View Telegraph
  • Punkin' Chunkin' Assorted lobbing devices have been tried over the years, but the current favorite works on compressed air. The record distance is about 1500 yards, which is nearly one mile! This year's event is scheduled for October 19th. But there are numerous punkin' chunkin' events held throughout the country, possibly in a location near you!
    Photo courtesy Mountain View Telegraph
  • Carved turnips served as the first jack-o-lanterns, later being replaced by pumpkins.
    Photo courtesy Fotolia/Riccardo Meloni
  • Dickinson Squash To make a 'Pumpion Pie' “Take a pound of pumpion and slice it, a handful of thyme, a little rosemary, and sweet marjoram stripped off the stalks, chop them small, then take cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and a few cloves all beaten, also ten eggs, and beat them, then mix and beat them all together, with as much sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froise, after it is fried, let it stand till it is cold, then fill your pie with this manner. Take sliced apples sliced thin round ways, and lay a layer of the froise, and a layer of apples with currants betwixt the layers. While your pie is sitted, put in a good deal of sweet butter before you close it. When the pie is baked, take six yolks of eggs, some white-wine or verjuyce, and make a caudle of this, but not too thick, but cut up the lid, put it in, and stir them well together whilst the eggs and pumpion be not perceived, and so serve it up.” —The Accomplisht Cook, by Robert May, facsimile reprint 1685 edition (Prospect Books, Devon, 2000), p. 224
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If the tomato is the queen of garden vegetables, the pumpkin may well be the king. In fact, in some parts of China, it is called “Emperor of the garden.” And why not? No plant produces a larger edible fruit, and what other plant can yield tens (or even hundreds) of pounds of healthful, delicious eating from a single seed in only a few months’ time? Pumpkins are known and loved around the world, for their beauty as well as for the gifts they bestow so generously, asking so little in return.

What's In A Name?

A pumpkin is a winter squash, but not all winter squash are pumpkins. Confused? So is everyone else. The Oxford English Dictionary defines pumpkin as the large fruit of Cucurbita pepo, “egg-shaped or nearly globular, with flattened ends ... used in cookery, esp. for pies, and as a food for cattle ... ” On the Internet the definition is even more prosaic — a pumpkin is something that is used for jack-o-lanterns! Yet in Australia “pumpkin” is used to describe a number of non-round, non-pepo, non-jack-o-lantern-yielding squash varieties, and no apparent harm is done. And in the United States, the mainstream’s iconic Libby's canned pumpkin isn't really pumpkin at all, but is said to be Dickinson squash, which is a variety of Cucurbita moschata, is round or nearly so, but is possibly never used for carving jack-o-lanterns. It only goes to show how arbitrary are the lines between pumpkin and squash.

Whichever squash species any putative pumpkin may belong to, we're on firmer ground with the origin of the word itself. The French borrowed the word “pepon” from the Greeks, who used the moniker to denote a large melon. Over time the word morphed into “pompon,” then into “pompion;” Shakespeare corrupted that just a little further, into “pumpion.” Finally, in the American colonies, it became “pumpkin,” and, in a process still apparently going on, some folks today say “punkin.”

The Three Sisters

People of the Indian nations in many regions had for centuries cultivated beans, corns and pumpkins (or squashes) in a planting style collectively known as “Three Sisters” planting. The three crops, by their natures, interact and make life easier for each other, and for the farmer. Beans twine up the corn stalks, restoring nitrogen in the soil. Tall corn plants, rustling melodiously in the breeze, offer a bit of shelter and support to the pumpkin plants. These in turn shade out the soil, reducing weed growth and conserving soil moisture.



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