Issue Features

Fall Harvest

Sep 27

A Tribute to the Pumpkin and its Fame

Elizabeth Mann

 

Travel back some 7,500 years ago and you will experience the start of a what has now become a tradition and an iconic symbol of the fall season. The popularity of the pumpkin has spread to every continent, except for Antarctica, and become one of the most popular crops during fall.

The pumpkin, or “La Calabaza Grande,” originated in ancient Mexico. The evidence to its longevity was a seed found by archaeologists while excavating a tomb in central Mexico. Its cultivation began in the Tehuacan and Oaxaca valleys in 6000–5000 BC, way before it ever reached our tables. Prized by the Aztecs, discovered by the Spaniards, and a blessing to the Pilgrims, the pumpkin continues to be harvested thousands of years later.

There is a difference between a pumpkin for décor purposes and pumpkins for cooking. The carving pumpkin, referred to as a Jack-o’-lantern, has a thinner shell and less flesh on the inside. This composition is grainy, stringy, and watery. On the other hand, when it comes time to choose a pumpkin for making a pie, (if you want to forgo the canned pumpkin) you’d want a small round one that is full of flesh. It is sweeter in flavor and contains more pulp than a Jack-o’-lantern. When consuming that pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, it might ease your conscience to know that pumpkins are high in fiber and good sources of vitamins A and B, potassium, protein, and iron.

During fall, pumpkin-flavored foods and drinks reign. There’s pumpkin pie, breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, casseroles, smoothies, coffees, and beers. As far as fruits go, they are versatile; and when it comes to varieties of pumpkins, the choices exceed expectations. There are some that are just fun to say and others that are quite comical. You’ve got your Baby Boo, a tiny little pumpkin that is white and needs to be kept protected from the sun to stay that way. Also on the fun side you’ve got your Howden Biggie, which is sturdy for carving, and the “Iron Man,” whose size and hard shell earned it the name. Then for a more legendary spin on things, there is the Cinderella pumpkin, which is a French heirloom pumpkin that is correctly called “Rouge vif D’Etampes.” It was nicknamed, however, due to its resemblance to the pumpkin that the fairy godmother in Cinderella transforms into a carriage. Here’s a fun fact: The Cinderella pumpkin was recorded as being cultivated by the Pilgrims during their second Thanksgiving dinner.

A tribute to the pumpkin and its widespread fame and harvest symbolism, according to the USDA Economic Research Service, there were 90,000 acres of pumpkins grown in the U.S. in 2014 and over 1.5 billion pounds harvested. It shouldn’t be too surprising that pumpkins have made it into the “Guinness Book of World Records.” The pumpkin weighed in at 2,624.6 pounds. It was grown by Mathias Willemijns from Belgium and received authenticity by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth in Ludwigsburg, Germany, on October 9, 2016. Now that is a pumpkin of gigantic proportions!

You don’t have to have years of experience or be a prize-winning farmer to grow giant pumpkins. One hobby farmer decided to take on the giant pumpkin challenge. After seeing the giant pumpkin display at the North Carolina State Fair, John Mann (this writer’s father), decided to start his own. “I imagined what it would look like to have one of those behemoths growing in my garden,” he said. Although his first year was unsuccessful, in the second year the four seeds he planted sprouted and grew quickly, and after much care, he successfully grew a 150-pound pumpkin. “It's not a large pumpkin compared to the sizes that you see at the fair, but the valuable experience I gained from growing the pumpkins to me could not be measured by the size of the pumpkin.” This pumpkin, which came from a Heritage Seed Company, is a variant of the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin.

The history and background of the pumpkin would not be complete without sharing how the art of pumpkin carving came to be. It has its roots in ancient Celtic Ireland and most surprisingly did not begin with a pumpkin, but rather turnips and rutabagas. These were hollowed and carved out with faces that were believed to scare evil spirits during the Celtic Irish festival Samhain. This tradition is credited to the Irish, who brought it with them when they came to America. Today, according to the Penn State Extension, in the Northeastern United States alone there is an estimated 25,000 acres dedicated to this bright orange fruit.

Whether it’s for cooking, decorating, or carving, the splashes of orange, white, and reddish tinted pumpkin hues can be found representing fall at pumpkin patches throughout the region and country.

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