Our Love Affair With Pumpkins

What says ‘October’ more than the sight of a beautiful orange pumpkin?

A central element in many fall festivals, the pumpkin is a beloved symbol of autumn.

Fittingly then, National Pumpkin Day is celebrated every year on October 26th, a holiday designed to give thanks to this popular squash native to North America.

More About the Perfect Pumpkin

pumpkinThe word ‘pumpkin’ originates from ‘peopon,’ which means ‘large melon’ in Greek. It then evolved to ‘pompon’ in French and ‘pumpion’ in Britain. The Americans later changed it to ‘pumpkin,’ the name we still use today.

Every year, the US produces 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin. 80 percent of this crop (around 800 million pumpkins) are ripe for picking in one single month of the year—October.

Over 45 different varieties of pumpkin exist. They range in color including orange, red, yellow and green, and they boast names like Hooligan, Cotton Candy, and Orange Smoothie.

Technically a fruit, the pumpkin is a winter squash in the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes cucumbers and melons.

Every single part of a pumpkin is edible: the skin, leaves, flowers, pulp, seeds, and stems.

Interestingly, pumpkins are 92 percent water.

Naturally low in energy density, pumpkins are an excellent source of potassium, vitamin A and beta-carotene, the powerful antioxidant that gives orange vegetables and fruits their color.

The History of the Pumpkin

Chef AJ and Almost Instant Pumpkin Pie PUddingScientists believe that pumpkins originated in North America about 9000 years ago. The oldest pumpkin seeds have been found in Mexico and date back to somewhere between 7000-5550 BC.

For the Native Americans, pumpkins (along with other forms of squash) were an important food staple which helped them survive the long winters.

They would grow the squash along river banks next to maize and beans, a planting technique that was called the “Three Sisters Method,” which allowed the three crops to sustain each other.

The corn served as the trellis upon which the beans could climb; the beans were nourished by the sunlight and also kept the corn stalks stable on windy days. The beans also put nitrogen into the soil which allowed the corn to grow tall, while the pumpkin sheltered the corn’s shallow roots and prevented weeds from taking hold.

Pumpkins as Jack-O’-Lanterns

Chef Ramses Bravo and Pumpkin Swirl CheesecakePumpkins will forever be associated with Halloween and the custom of carving Jack-O’-Lanterns.

The practice was brought to America by Irish immigrants. In their homeland, the Irish used to carve Jack-O’-Lanterns out of potatoes or turnips, but upon arrival in America, they began to use pumpkins instead because they were far easier to carve.

The tradition of the Jack-O’-Lantern stems from an Irish legend about a man named Stingy Jack who was a somewhat unpleasant character famous for playing tricks on people.

We discussed the legend in our 2016 blog post, Celebrating Pumpkin Power, so when you finish reading this article, head over to learn about the tale (and get another delicious pumpkin recipe!).

How to Celebrate National Pumpkin Day

pumpkinThe two best ways to celebrate National Pumpkin Day are to carve a pumpkin or eat one.

To help you with the latter, here are two spectacular plant-based (and sos-free) takes on pumpkin pie:  Chef AJ’s Almost-Instant Pumpkin Pie Pudding and Chef Ramses Bravo’s Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake.

Enjoy National Pumpkin Day!