Pumpkin is the name of a plant that refers to certain cultivars of squash, most commonly those of Cucurbita pepo, that are round, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin and deep yellow to orange coloration. The thick shell contains the seeds and pulp. Some exceptionally large cultivars of squash with similar appearance have also been derived from Cucurbita maxima. Specific cultivars of winter squash derived from other species, including C. argyrosperma, and C. moschata, are also sometimes called "pumpkin". In New Zealand and Australian English, the term "pumpkin" generally refers to the broader category called winter squash elsewhere.
Pumpkins, like other squash, are native to North America. Pumpkins are widely grown for commercial use, and are used both in food and recreation. Pumpkin pie, for instance, is a traditional part of Thanksgiving meals in the United States, although commercially canned pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash than the pumpkins frequently carved as jack o'lanterns for decoration around Halloween.
- 1 Description
- 2 Etymology
- 3 Terminology
- 4 Taxonomy
- 5 Distribution and habitation
- 6 Ecology
- 7 Uses
- 8 Activities involving pumpkins
- 9 Cultural aspects
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. One often used botanical classification relies on the characteristics of the stems: pumpkin stems are more rigid, prickly, and angular (with an approximate five-degree angle) than squash stems, which are generally softer, more rounded, and more flared where joined to the fruit.
Traditional C. pepo pumpkins generally weigh between 6 and 18 pounds (2.7 and 8.2 kg), though the largest cultivars (of the species C. maxima) regularly reach weights of over 75 pounds (34 kg).
The word pumpkin originates from the word pepon (πέπων), which is Greek for “large melon", something round and large. The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion and later American colonists changed that to the word that is used today, "pumpkin".
The term "pumpkin" as it applies to winter squash has different meanings depending on variety and vernacular. In many areas, including North America and the United Kingdom, "pumpkin" traditionally refers to only certain round, orange varieties of winter squash, predominantly derived from Cucurbita pepo, while in Australian English, "pumpkin" can refer to winter squash of any appearance.
All pumpkins are winter squash: mature fruit of certain species in the genus Cucurbita. Characteristics commonly used to define "pumpkin" include smooth and slightly ribbed skin, and deep yellow to orange color. Circa 2005, white pumpkins had become increasingly popular in the United States. Other colors, including dark green (as with some oilseed pumpkins), also exist. The term “pumpkin” has no agreed upon botanical or scientific meaning, and is used interchangeably with "squash" and "winter squash" in some areas.
Distribution and habitation
Pumpkins are grown all around the world for a variety of reasons ranging from agricultural purposes (such as animal feed) to commercial and ornamental sales. Of the seven continents, only Antarctica is unable to produce pumpkins; the biggest international producers of pumpkins include the United States, Canada, Mexico, India, and China. The traditional American pumpkin is the Connecticut Field variety.
Cultivation in the United States
As one of the most popular crops in the United States, 1.5 billion pounds (680,000,000 kilograms) of pumpkins are produced each year. The top pumpkin-producing states include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.
According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, 95% of the U.S. crop intended for processing is grown in Illinois. Nestlé, operating under the brand name Libby's, produces 85% of the processed pumpkin in the United States, at their plant in Morton, Illinois. In the fall of 2009, rain in Illinois devastated the Nestlé crop, resulting in a shortage affecting the entire country during the Thanksgiving holiday season.
Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop that is usually planted in early July. The specific conditions necessary for growing pumpkins require that soil temperatures three inches (7.6 cm) deep are at least 60 °F (15.5 °C) and soil that holds water well. Pumpkin crops may suffer if there is a lack of water or because of cold temperatures (in this case, below 65 °F (18.3 °C); frost can be detrimental), and sandy soil with poor water retention or poorly drained soils that become waterlogged after heavy rain. Pumpkins are, however, rather hardy, and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines to replace what was removed.
Pumpkins produce both a male and female flower; honeybees play a significant role in fertilization. Pumpkins have historically been pollinated by the native squash bee Peponapis pruinosa, but this bee has declined, probably at least in part to pesticide sensitivity, and today most commercial plantings are pollinated by honeybees. One hive per acre (4,000 m² per hive) is recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If there are inadequate bees for pollination, gardeners often have to hand pollinate. Inadequately pollinated pumpkins usually start growing but abort before full development.
Pumpkins are very versatile in their uses for cooking. Most parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the fleshy shell, the seeds, the leaves, and even the flowers. In the United States and Canada, pumpkin is a popular Halloween and Thanksgiving staple. Pumpkin purée is sometimes prepared and frozen for later use.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||109 kJ (26 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||0.5 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||
|Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted. In its native North America, it is a very important, traditional part of the autumn harvest, eaten mashed and making its way into soups and purees. Often, it is made into pie, various kinds of which are a traditional staple of the Canadian and American Thanksgiving holidays. In Canada, Mexico, the United States, Europe and China, the seeds are often roasted and eaten as a snack.
Pumpkins that are still small and green may be eaten in the same way as squash or zucchini. In the Middle East, pumpkin is used for sweet dishes; a well-known sweet delicacy is called halawa yaqtin. In South Asian countries such as India, pumpkin is cooked with butter, sugar, and spices in a dish called kadu ka halwa. Pumpkin is used to make sambar in Udupi cuisine. In Guangxi province, China, the leaves of the pumpkin plant are consumed as a cooked vegetable or in soups. In Australia and New Zealand, pumpkin is often roasted in conjunction with other vegetables. In Japan, small pumpkins are served in savory dishes, including tempura. In Myanmar, pumpkins are used in both cooking and desserts (candied). The seeds are a popular sunflower seed substitute. In Thailand, small pumpkins are steamed with custard inside and served as a dessert. In Vietnam, pumpkins are commonly cooked in soups with pork or shrimp. In Italy, it can be used with cheeses as a savory stuffing for ravioli. Also, pumpkin can be used to flavor both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.
In the southwestern United States and Mexico, pumpkin and squash flowers are a popular and widely available food item. They may be used to garnish dishes, and they may be dredged in a batter then fried in oil. Pumpkin leaves are a popular vegetable in the Western and central regions of Kenya; they are called seveve, and are an ingredient of mukimo, respectively, whereas the pumpkin itself is usually boiled or steamed. The seeds are popular with children who roast them on a pan before eating them.
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are small, flat, green, edible seeds. Most pumpkin seeds are covered by a white husk, although some pumpkin varieties produce seeds without them. Pumpkin seeds are a popular snack that can be found hulled or semi-hulled at most grocery stores. However, roasting pumpkin seeds (usually scooped out of jack-o-lanterns) is a popular Halloween treat. Per ounce serving, pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, magnesium, copper and zinc.
Pumpkin seed oil
Pumpkin seed oil is a thick, green-red oil that is produced from roasted pumpkin seeds. When used for cooking or as a salad dressing, pumpkin seed oil is generally mixed with other oils because of its robust flavor. Used in cooking in central and eastern Europe, it is considered a delicacy in traditional local cuisines such as for pumpkin soup, potato salad or even vanilla ice cream. Pumpkin seed oil contains fatty acids, such as oleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid.
Preliminary research indicates that phytochemicals found in pumpkin may favorably affect insulin and glucose levels in laboratory diabetes models. Two compounds isolated from pumpkin paste and then fed daily to diabetic rats over six weeks, trigonelline and nicotinic acid, caused significant reductions in blood glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides, indicating improvement in the diabetic condition.
Canned pumpkin is often recommended by veterinarians as a dietary supplement for dogs and cats that are experiencing certain digestive ailments such as constipation, diarrhea, or hairballs. The high fiber content helps to aid proper digestion.
Raw pumpkin can be fed to poultry, as a supplement to regular feed, during the winter to help maintain egg production, which usually drops off during the cold months.
Pumpkin phytochemicals and nutrients remain under preliminary research for potential biological effects.
Activities involving pumpkins
Pumpkins are commonly carved into decorative lanterns called jack-o'-lanterns for the Halloween season in North America. Throughout Britain and Ireland, there is a long tradition of carving lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip, mangelwurzel, or swede. The practice of carving pumpkins for Halloween originated from an Irish myth about a man name "Stingy Jack"  The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger – making them easier to carve than turnips. Not until 1837, does jack-o'-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern, and the carved pumpkin lantern association with Halloween is recorded in 1866.
In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween. In 1900, an article on Thanksgiving entertaining recommended a lit jack-o'-lantern as part of the festivities that encourage kids and families to join together to make their own jack-o'-lanterns.
Pumpkin chunking is a competitive activity in which teams build various mechanical devices designed to throw a pumpkin as far as possible. Catapults, trebuchets, ballistas and air cannons are the most common mechanisms. Some pumpkin chunkers breed and grow special varieties of pumpkin under specialized conditions to improve the pumpkin's chances of surviving a throw.
Pumpkin festivals and competitions
Giant pumpkins are orange variants of the giant squash, Cucurbita maxima. Growers of these "pumpkins" often compete to see whose pumpkins are the most massive. Festivals are often dedicated to the pumpkin and these competitions.
The Ohio towns of Barnesville and Circleville each hold a festival every year, the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival and the Circleville Pumpkin Show respectively. The town of Half Moon Bay, California, holds an annual Art and Pumpkin Festival, drawing over 250,000 visitors each year and including the World Champion Pumpkin Weigh-Off. Farmers from all over the US compete to determine who can grow the heaviest pumpkin. The winning pumpkin regularly tops the scale at more than 1500 pounds. Leonardo Urena, from Napa, California, grew the winner of the 2011 Weigh-Off with a 1,704-pound Atlantic Giant, setting a new California State record. The record for the world's heaviest pumpkin was broken September 30, 2012, at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts. Ron Wallace of Greene, Rhode Island, entered a pumpkin weighing 2,009 pounds. A few days earlier on September 27, a pumpkin grown by Steve Geddes of Boscawen, New Hampshire, weighed in at 1,843.5 pounds at the Deerfield Fair in New Hampshire. That one held the world record for just five days. Prior to that, Guinness World Records had the world's heaviest pumpkin set in 2010 by Chris Stevens, at a weight of 1,810 pounds, 8 ounces, at the Stillwater Harvest Fest in Stillwater, Minnesota. The town of Morton, Illinois, the self-declared pumpkin capital of the world, has held a Pumpkin Festival since 1966. The town, where Nestlé's pumpkin packing plant is located (and where 90% of canned pumpkins eaten in the US are processed), held for several years a record for the number of carved and lit pumpkins in one place, before losing it to Boston, Massachusetts, in 2006. A large contributor of pumpkins to the Keene Pumpkin Fest in New Hampshire is local Keene State College, which hosts an event called Pumpkin Lobotomy on its main quadrangle. Usually held the day before the festival itself, Pumpkin Lobotomy has the air of a large party, with the school providing pumpkins and carving instruments alike (though some students prefer to use their own) and music provided by college radio station WKNH.
Ireland's only Pumpkin Festival takes place each year in Virginia, County Cavan to find Ireland's biggest pumpkins. This year the biggest pumpkin topped 1300 pounds. The event takes place over a holiday weekend, along with other entertainment and festive parades.
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Folklore and fiction
There seems to be a strong connection in folklore and popular culture between pumpkins and the supernatural. Famous examples include the following:
- A commonplace motif of people being turned into pumpkins by witches.
- The jack-o-lantern custom discussed above, which connects to Halloween lore about warding off demons.
- In the folk tale Cinderella, the fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a carriage, but at midnight it reverts into a pumpkin.
- Linus' belief in the Great Pumpkin in Charles M. Schulz's comic strip Peanuts.
- Juice from a pumpkin has magical effects in the short story "Pumpkin Juice" by R. L. Stine.
- In the Harry Potter novels, pumpkin juice, a favorite drink of the students of Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is a recurring element.
- The pumpkin hurled by the "Headless Horseman" in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
- Jack Pumpkinhead, a character in the Oz books of L. Frank Baum, with a pumpkin for a head on a wooden body, brought to life in the second book.
- In Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, the main character, Jack Skellington, is "the Pumpkin King."
- Precious Ramotswe, the fictional detective from Botswana in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of novels by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, often cooks and eats pumpkin.
- In a short fiction by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Feathertop from 1852, a witch turns a scarecrow with a "pumpkinhead" into a man.
Iconography and commercialization
CBC Radio One's national food columnist Khalil Akhtar argues that pumpkins were once an important staple in the North American diet, when mixed farming predominated and wheat crops were unreliable, but by the late nineteenth century they were already symbols of a romanticized rural past. Their association with harvest time and pumpkin pie at American thanksgiving reinforced this iconic role. Starbucks turned this association into a marketing success with its pumpkin spice latte, introduced in 2003. This has led to a notable trend in pumpkin and spice flavoured food products in North America. This is despite the fact that North Americans rarely buy whole pumpkins to eat other than when carving jack-o'-lanterns.
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- Daily News (Kingston, Ontario), November 1, 1866:
- The old time custom of keeping up Hallowe'en was not forgotten last night by the youngsters of the city. They had their maskings and their merry-makings, and perambulated the streets after dark in a way [that] was no doubt amusing to themselves. There was a great sacrifice of pumpkins from which to make transparent heads and face, lighted up by the unfailing two inches of tallow candle.
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- Cindy Ott, Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2012.
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- Squash Display at Missouri Botanical Garden — Pics of 150 varieties from The Great Pumpkin Patch, Arthur, IL
- Pumpkin seeds on The worlds Healthiest Foods, The George Mateljan Foundation.
- Illinois Leads Nation in Pumpkin Production, Illinois Department of Agriculture.
- The Largest Pumpkin Ever, bigpumpkins.com.
- Keene Pumpkin Festival, list of world records.