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What You May Not Know About Pumpkins

By Pam Rosendal, Colorado Master Gardener

Colorful pumpkins and gourds, Photo:

Nothing heralds the advent of fall quite like a pumpkin. Whether it’s a pumpkin-spice latte, doughnut, pancake, tea or cookie, there’s no denying we love our pumpkins. In observance of the season, some little known facts about pumpkins:

  • The word “pumpkin” originates from the Greek “peopon” meaning “large melon.” That evolved to “pompon” in French and “pumpion” in Britain. Americans later changed it to “pumpkin,” the name we still use today.
  • It’s believed that pumpkins originated in North America about 9000 years ago with the oldest pumpkin seeds discovered in Mexico dating back to 7000-5550 BCE.
  • Pumpkins and other squash were historically important staple foods among native peoples across America. In a planting technique commonly known as the “three sisters,” corn, beans, and pumpkin were interplanted. Each plant worked to the benefit of the others: corn supported bean vines while bean plants fixed nitrogen into the soil to feed the corn. The large leaves of pumpkin plants shaded the soil curbing weed growth and damage from pests.
  • Every year, the US produces 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin. 95% of those pumpkins are grown in Illinois. Over 800 million pumpkins are harvested in October alone.
  • The latest (2022) North American record for the largest pumpkin weighed in at 2,560 pounds. It failed to unseat the current world record holder, a pumpkin grown in Italy tipping the scales at a whopping 2,703 pounds.
  • Pumpkins aren’t simply orange anymore. There are over 45 different pumpkin varieties ranging in color from orange to red, yellow, green, and even white, grey, and black. With names like Black Futsu, Hooligan, Baby Boo, and Jarrahdale, there’s a pumpkin to suit anyone’s preference.
  • Pumpkins are 92% water and are an excellent source of vitamin A, potassium, and beta-carotene, the antioxidant that gives orange fruits and vegetables their color.
  • Each pumpkin has about 500 seeds. High in iron, fiber, and protein, they are a healthful, easy-to-make snack.
  • The pumpkin pie enjoyed by early English settlers would be unrecognizable to us today. Lacking the wheat flour, butter, and an oven needed to make a pie crust, the settlers hollowed out pumpkins and filled the shells with milk, honey and spices to make a custard. They then roasted it all in hot ashes.
  • It’s believed the custom of carving jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween started in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands where turnips and beets were hollowed out as lanterns and carved with grotesque faces.
Jack-o’-lanterns, Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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