Who Knew?: Pumpkins: A pure pearl of passion and pageantry
by By LUCIE R. WILLSIE Associate Editor
Oct 21, 2012 | 454 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I heard a news report recently that this year’s pumpkin crop is especially prolific.

Apparently, the hot, dry weather that plagued most other crops, such as corn, was just perfect for pumpkins.

Who knew?

Do you know that what kills many other crops allows great pumpkins to grow?

I sure didn’t.

I Googled more.

Here’s what I found.

A pumpkin is really a squash. It’s native to North America. In fact, the first pumpkins were thought to have been discovered sometime between 7000 and 5500 B.C. in what is now Mexico.

Quite an art has gone into trying to cultivate the biggest, heaviest pumpkin possible. If my memory serves, the pumpkin record is more than 2,000 pounds just achieved in September. And, all those pumpkin-growing competitors don’t intend to quit there. They keep going for even bigger progeny.

The 10 top secrets to growing huge pumpkins are: great soil, wonderful genetics, an early start indoors, the right fertilizer at the right time and in the right amount, water, liquid calcium, special plant growth and pruning of vines, secondary root growth, protection from certain insects and pumpkin diseases, and proper shade.

As you can tell from all the study and work that has gone into raising the biggest pumpkin just mentioned, pumpkin-growing competitions are quite, well, competitive.

The typical weight for the average pumpkin, however, is between 9 and 18 pounds. And although most pumpkins are orange in color, they also come in various shades of green, yellow, orange and yellow, white, red and, yes, even gray.

Who knew?

Pumpkins are usually associated with Thanksgiving and Halloween here in the states. But most folks just make sure that pumpkin pie is part of the Thanksgiving meal because they feel it is part of the Thanksgiving tradition.

Actually, it’s not.

Not the first Thanksgiving, at any rate, according to historical reports. Maybe it was served on the second Thanksgiving, but probably not the first.

In addition to pumpkin pies, pumpkins here are thought of as a canvas for carving faces and scenes to go along with the fall holiday and decorating.

I’ve already seen many homes decorated with the orange gourds.

It’s tradition.

But it didn’t start out that way.

Apparently, the word pumpkin started off from the Greek word Pepon, which means “a large melon.” It belongs to the genus Cucurbita. These first “pumpkins” are not the ones we’re using today. They had crooked necks instead of a round, bulbous body with a flat bottom that allows the squash to sit upright.

Pumpkins were used for just about everything.

They were, and still are, used for food.

And a great food source they are, hence their popularity. They are low in calories, fat and sodium. They are high in fiber, and good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein and iron.

In fact, if it weren’t for the pumpkin, most North American settlers would not have survived the cold, harsh winters. The Native Americans first introduced pumpkins and other squashes — or gourds — to the Pilgrims. Other such gourds include cucumbers, honeydew melons, cantaloupe, watermelons and zucchini, and they now grow on six continents. Not in the Antarctic, but, yes, even in Alaska. U.S. farmers grow more than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin every year.

In fact, Morton, Ill., is the “Pumpkin Capital of the World,” even if that’s what they call themselves. You see, that’s where the Libby company has its pumpkin plant.

In addition to the “meat” inside the pumpkins, the Pilgrims and other early settlers also ate the pumpkin seeds for food, as well as for a medicine. At one time, pumpkins were thought to be a cure for freckles, as a remedy for snake bites, as well as a way for men to avoid developing prostate cancer.

Dried pumpkin was stored and ground into flour. Even the dried shells were used as bowls or containers to store other food, such as beans. Pumpkins were even used to make beer. Eventually, pumpkins were used for trading.

The first jack-o-lantern wasn’t made from a pumpkin, but rather carved turnips, potatoes or beets.

Pumpkin carving has also become quite a competitive sport.

Pumpkin carving competitions have become quite the rage.

I have never carved a pumpkin.

A misspent youth perhaps, or maybe just a deprived one, but no, I never carved a pumpkin. I don’t quite know how I managed to miss this annual tradition.

With everything pumpkin this time of year, one of my friends seems to be just sickened by the thought. Pumpkin coffee. Pumpkin ice cream. Pumpkin cheesecake. Even pumpkin pie seems to leave a bad taste in her mouth, excuse the pun.

I agree with her, except for the pumpkin pie, covered with lots of whipped cream. Actually, I think I like pumpkin pie just for that reason — as a place onto which I can load up whipped cream.

I knew pumpkins were good for something!