October is the month when we gear up for chilly weather, Halloween is around the corner, and pumpkins are everywhere decorating the fall landscape.
But have you ever wondered where these giant orange fruits originated and how they became a fall and Halloween staple? Before you head off to the pumpkin patch this year, check out these fun facts about the beloved pumpkin.
A Pumpkin is a Member of the Gourd Family
The word ‘pumpkin’ comes from the Greek word ‘pepon,’ which translates as large melon’ or something round and large. And the pumpkin is a member of the gourd family, which also includes zucchini, cucumbers, squash, melons, and watermelons.
While usually orange, they can sometimes be yellow, white red, or green. Native to CentralAmerica and Mexico, pumpkins are now grown on six continents. They’ve been cultivated in America for 5,000 years and are indigenous to the western hemisphere.
Pumpkins are Tasty and Nutritious!
Pumpkins are a versatile and nutritious plant, with edible flowers, seeds, and flesh packed with vitamins. You can make soups, desserts (pumpkin pie anyone?), and bread from a pumpkin. Seasoned roasted pumpkin seeds are also delicious. Pumpkin pie is a dessert that originates in North America and eaten as we all know, during harvest time and Thanksgiving.
In early colonial times, pumpkins were used to make the crust of pies rather than the filling. Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine, and also flattened strips of pumpkin, then dried them to make mats. The Pilgrims were even known to make beer out of pumpkins!
They Can Grow Pretty Big!
On average pumpkins weigh about 13 pounds. Some people grow giant pumpkins for competitions, and they can weigh in at over 1000 pounds. In 2010 the world record was a staggering 1810 –can you imagine the size of that pumpkin! That would make a lot of pies.
Why We Carve Pumpkins
The carving of Jack-o’-lanterns originates in the Celtic traditions of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, where a root vegetable such as a turnip, rutabaga or potato was hollowed out, carved with a face, and illuminated by coal embers or a candle during the Gaelic festival of Samhain (or the Welsh ‘Calan Gaeaf.’) They were placed near the front door in an attempt to ward off evil spirits on the night when the souls of the dead mingle with the living.
The story goes that when the Celtsimmigrated to the U.S. they found pumpkins were not only plentiful but also easier to carve, and the tradition of pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns took off. More recently in Wales, children dressed up as witches or ghosts and carried around carved rutabaga jack-o’-lanterns, hung with string, to go trick or treating.