This time of year, pumpkins provide a cheerful splash of color where they are gathered for sale or on the front steps of a house. Did you ever wonder where pumpkins originated, how to cook pumpkin, or what it takes to grow your own?  Pumpkins have a long and interesting history in the cultures of people around the world.  They are members of the cucurbit family along with cucumbers, squash and melons.  The latin names include Cucurbita pepo, C. moschata, and C. maxima.   The name ‘pumpkin’ is derived from the Greek ‘pepon’ meaning large melon.  The French converted this to ‘pompon’, the English to ‘pumpion’ and the American colonists to ‘pumpkin’.

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Photo credit: Wikipedia.com

 

Pumpkins are thought to have originated in Central America. The oldest pumpkin-type seeds, found in Mexico, date back to 7000 – 5500 BC.  Native Americans used pumpkins for food and they dried strips of pumpkin which were woven into mats.   Strips of pumpkin flesh were roasted on the fire and eaten. Pumpkin pie got its start when the colonists cleaned the seeds and pulp out of the pumpkin, filled it with milk, spices and honey, and baked it in hot ashes.

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Photo credit: J. Allen, UConn

 

The history of the Jack O’Lantern comes from an Irish story about a man named Stingy Jack. Jack tricked the devil a couple of times and extracted a promise from him that he would not claim Jack’s soul when he died.  When Jack did die, the story goes that God would not accept such a soul into heaven but the devil honored his promise and would not accept him into hell.  The devil gave Jack a burning coal for light and Jack carried it inside a carved out turnip.  His roaming ghost was known to the Irish as ‘Jack of the Lantern’ which became ‘Jack O’Lantern’.  People began carving their own turnips or potatoes with scary faces to protect their homes from evil spirits. The English used large beets.  When immigrants from these countries traveled to the New World, they brought along this tradition and found that the native North American pumpkin made a great Jack O’Lantern.

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Photo credit: Wikimedia.com

 

When looking for a pumpkin (or a bunch!) to bring home, avoid those with damage or soft, rotten areas.   Pumpkins with the stem still attached will store longer than those without.  Most people use pumpkins for decoration or for Jack O’Lanterns.  For cooking, select a sweet or pie type pumpkin which are generally smaller and sweeter.

If you would like to cook the pumpkin, it can be boiled/steamed, baked or microwaved. To boil/steam: Cut the pumpkin into large chunks and rinse. Place in a large pot with a cup of water and cover, cooking for 10-12 minutes or until fork tender.  To bake: Cut in half, clean and rinse. Place cut side down on a cookie sheet and bake at 350°F for one hour or until fork tender. To microwave: Cut in half, microwave 15 minutes then 1-2 minutes at a time until fork tender.  After cooking, the peel is removed and the pumpkin can be pureed or mashed.  It freezes well and can be used in recipes that call for solid pack canned pumpkin.

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Photo credit: J. Allen, UConn

 

Here is a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds from http://allrecipes.com:

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons butter, melted
  • 1 pinch salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
  2. Toss seeds in a bowl with the melted butter and salt. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown; stir occasionally.

Nutritional Information 

Servings Per Recipe: 6    Calories: 83

Amount Per Serving

  • Total Fat: 5g
  • Cholesterol: 4mg
  • Sodium: 77mg
  • Total Carbs: 6g
  • Dietary Fiber: 6g
  • Protein: 3g