Pumpkins: A Brief History
Pumpkins are thought to have originated 7,500 years ago in Central America. These pumpkins were small, with thick, bitter flesh. Indigenous peoples grew pumpkins for food, and pumpkins were a regular diet staple due to their high nutritional value. Now, pumpkins grow on all continents except Antarctica.
The popular tradition of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns didn't start in the United States until the 1800's when Irish immigrants began making them. In Ireland, turnips and potatoes were carved as part of Halloween, or Samhain, celebrations to ward of evil spirits and protect households.
The United States grows approximately 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins per year, making it one of the most popular crops. The majority of these pumpkins are processed to make pumpkin puree, used as animal feed, or become jack-o-lanterns. Most Americans do not buy whole pumpkins to cook and eat. Whole pumpkins are carved or used as decoration, and any cooking is done with already processed canned puree.
Top 5 Favorite Pumpkin Varieties
Try these in the garden next season; you won't regret it. These pumpkins are so much fun, add a colorful dimension to the garden, and are easy to grow. Some are good for eating, and others are good for Halloween celebrations.
A French heirloom, this reddish-orange pumpkin looks strikingly similar to the coach in the Cinderella stories. It is flat, deeply ribbed, and much brighter than the standard orange pumpkin. Cinderella pumpkins are striking used as a decoration, and they taste quite good, too. The dense flesh is especially good in curries and soups. Cinderella pumpkins average between 25-35 pounds.
Pepitas F1 Hybrid
A different kind of pumpkin, the Pepitas F1 Hybrid is grown for it's “naked” hull-less seeds. They are decent for eating and are nice as decorations, but the seeds are the prize with this pumpkin. Pepitas produce dark orange fruit with green streaks averaging between 9-12 pounds, and they are packed with seeds.
The classic, centuries-old pumpkin variety that is largely touted as the standard for all pumpkins. The Connecticut Field Pumpkin is best used for carving or decorating. It's okay for cooking but not preferred. This traditional autumn pumpkin is orange, round, slightly ribbed, and averages 15-25 pounds.
A stunning New Zealand specimen, Jarradale pumpkins are grayish-blue on the outside with brilliant golden-orange flesh inside. They are excellent eating pumpkins, and also look amazing in autumn decorations. Jarradale pumpkins are flat, heavily ribbed, and average 8-10 pounds.
New England Pie (aka Small Sugar)
The best pumpkin for pies, without question. The flesh is deep-orange, sweet, and flavorful. New England Pie pumpkins average 5-8 pounds, making them the perfect kitchen-size pumpkin. These pumpkins should always be used for cooking.
Once you've had home-grown pumpkin in pie, soup, roasted, or in curries, you'll be growing your own every year. Their flavor is phenomenal, and so much more interesting than basic canned pumpkin. Here's a great place to get started cooking whole pumpkin.
Pumpkins have long growing seasons, so be sure to check the varieties to see if they will grow in your area. They are best started indoors and then transplanted in the garden after all danger of frost has passed. This gives the tender pumpkin seedlings extra time to mature. Happy Pumpkin Growing!