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The word "pumpkin" comes from the Greek word pepon, which means "large melon."
The pumpkin is a member of the cucumber and squash family. There are several varities of pumpkins, but all grow on an annual vine and have large, bristly leaves that bear large, yellow, solitary flowers. The Connecticut Field Pumpkin is the one most commonly seen at Halloween and Thanksgiving. Most pumpkins weigh 9-18 pounds, but huge specimens of up to a thousand pounds or more have been recorded. About 90 percent of a pumpkin's weight is water.
Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America, with seeds from related plants found in Mexico dating back over 7000 years. They were a staple part of Native American diets long before Europeans arrived; Europeans introduced the pumpkin to Europe, and it spread from there to other parts of the world. The carving of pumpkins for Halloween dates back to an ancient Celtic practice of carving rutabagas and turnips into totems for good luck on All Hallows Eve. Irish immigrants brought the practice to America, but found the pumpkin to be much easier to carve. Early colonists also invented the pumpkin pie, but originally the pumpkin was used as the pie crust rather than the pie filling.
Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Australia, but are most common in temperate regions. The United States, Mexico, India and China are largest producers in the world. All fifty of the United States have pumpkins, with other 1 billion pounds cultivated annually (the vast majority of them in October). Illinois is the principal domestic producer, followed by Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.
Pumpkins grown in large-scale operations are usually cultivated for use in processed pie fillings and their seeds, which make an excellent and nutritional snack. The vast majority of pumpkin cultivation is done in small operations, and pick-your-own pumpkin patches appear across the country as the Halloween season approaches. Pumpkin seeds are planted after all danger of frost has passed, usually May to July depending on local climate. Germination takes 7-10 days, and the first flowers appear at about three week. Each plant will bear both male and female flowers, but the male flowers always appear first. Blossoms only live a day or so, during which time they are pollinated by bees (honeybees are the most commonly used bees). It takes 90-120 days for a full pumpkin to develop from a pollinated flower.
Pumpkins are rich in Vitamins A, C and E, as well as potassium, magnesium, and dietary fiber, but are low in calories. Over the course of history they have been used as a cure for freckles and as a remedy for snake bites. Modern science has found that pumpkin seeds contain a compound that may help prevent prostate cancer, as well as another compound that can rid the body of intestinal parasites. Pumpkin flowers are also edible, and can be eaten both raw and cooked.
Fruit or Vegetable?
Like tomatoes, pumpkins meet the technical definition of fruit, being the ripened ovary of a flower, but are most commonly classified as a vegetable because of the way they are grown and used.
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This page was last updated on 10/19/2018.