Top pumpkin facts for the Halloween season

Is there any fruit, vegetable or otherwise food-related object that better sums up the autumn season than the pumpkin? (Answer: no, there isn’t.) As the weather grows colder and the days shorter, we eat pumpkins in delicious pies and snack on their seeds, we cook them into warm and toasty soups, and we even carve faces into them to light the night and scare away spooky spirits.

How did the humble pumpkin become the symbol it is today? Today, we’ll take a look at the pumpkin.

Pumpkins: the origin story

Pumpkins and squash were first grown in Central America and Mexico, with the oldest pumpkin seeds ever discovered being at least seven thousand years old. The first pumpkins weren’t the orange, round beauties we think of today — they were more crooked, with long necks.

Early Native Americans enjoyed pumpkin strips roasted over an open fire, baked, boiled or ground into flour. They ate the seeds and used them in medicines, and even put pumpkin plant flowers in stews. Dried out, pumpkin shells could be used as storage vessels.

Over the centuries, pumpkins have spread around the world, and are grown on all continents (except Antarctica, but no surprise there).

Jack-o’-lanterns

Originally pumpkins weren’t the medium of choice for Jack-o’-lanterns. The Michelangelos of the produce side of art first took their tools to turnips in Ireland. The lanterns took their name from a folktale surrounding the mysterious lights that would appear over the bogs (also known as will-o’-the-wisps), and were said to represent or to ward off spirits.

The round, orange pumpkins we seek out today for our own Jack-o’-lanterns are called Connecticut Field pumpkins, an heirloom variety that is also great for cooking with.

What even are pumpkins?

Are they fruits? Vegetables? Like the tomato, people struggle to classify the pumpkin. Technically, they’re fruits. However, because of their savory flavor and the way we prepared them, people tend to classify them as vegetables.

Turns out pumpkin isn’t even a strict botanical classification in and of itself. The line between pumpkins, gourds and squashes is a little blurry depending on who you ask, but they’re all related to the Cucurbitaceae family of vines. Pumpkins themselves are any round, orange-ish squash that we decide to call a pumpkin. More and more, the orange color isn’t even a necessity, as white, green and even pink pumpkins crop up.

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