Astronomical Fall in the Northern Hemisphere begins on September 22nd, so it is going to be here in 2 days as I write this, and I suppose many people start thinking about that traditional fall favorite, so I figured it was a really good time to answer a bushel of pumpkin questions today!
Here in the United States, pumpkins go hand in hand with the fall holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. An orange fruit harvested in October, this nutritious and versatile plant features flowers, seeds and flesh that are edible and rich in vitamins. Pumpkin is used to make soups, desserts and breads, and many Americans include pumpkin pie in their Thanksgiving meals. Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns is a popular Halloween tradition that originated hundreds of years ago in Ireland. Back then, however, jack-o’-lanterns were made out of turnips or potatoes; it wasn’t until Irish immigrants arrived in America and discovered the pumpkin that a new Halloween ritual was born. But let's get to the questions...
A. Well Mike, that seems like the perfect question to start off with so here goes. The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word Pepõn which means large melon. The word gradually morphed by the French, English and then Americans into the word "pumpkin." Pumpkins and squash are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas and were used by the early Native Americans. These early pumpkins were not the traditional round orange upright Jack-O-Lantern fruit we think of today when you hear the word pumpkin. They were a crooked neck variety which stored well. Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans. Early Native Americans roasted pumpkin strips over campfires and used them as a food source, long before the arrival of European explorers. Pumpkins helped The Native Americans make it through long cold winters. They used the sweet flesh in numerous ways: roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried. They ate pumpkin seeds and also used them as a medicine. The blossoms were added to stews. Dried pumpkin could be stored and ground into flour. It is said that Columbus carried pumpkin seeds back with him to Europe. There the pumpkins were grown and were used to feed pigs, but were never used as a human food source, that came decades later.
Q. Carole in Rhode Island asks, “I know that you can save the seeds from pumpkins and roast or toast them — but can you do the same with any winter squash? Are there any that are inedible?”
A. The simple answer here is Yes; they are all edible. Some that you may want to try are pumpkin, butternut, kabocha, and acorn squash these are all very tasty.
A. Yes, you can, but you may not get a pumpkin that looks like the one you bought from the store. Most pumpkin varieties are open pollinated and are planted in rows that are close together. Bees love to fly from flower to flower on pumpkin farms gather all the yummy nectar they can. There is a good likelihood that your pumpkin will be a cross of the different varieties that the growers produce. I like to affectionately call these offspring "whatzits." Also, some of pumpkins you buy, like most Jack-o-lantern varieties, are hybrids. When you plant a seed from a hybrid they will not be true to type. They will revert back to their parentage which may have some really undesirable traits.
Q Wendy in Oregon wants to know, “Can I make a pumpkin pie from a Jack-O-Lantern?”
A. You can but you probably shouldn’t. It is not poison or anything crazy like that it won't taste very good at all! You see, Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin varieties were bred to have upright straight walls, to be hollow, and to stand up to being carved. They were not bred for eating. Always use a pie or baking variety for cooking and you will have much better results. Some of the choices I like best are Cinderella, Baby Pam, Lumina, or Pink Banana Squash. Hubbard and Butternut squash are also good pie choices too.
Q. Sam in Texas asks, “This is the first time I have grown pumpkins, they are doing well, I would guess that most will weigh about 5 pounds each. How many do I need to make a pumpkin pie?”
A. Sam, it sounds like you are having really nice success in your first attempt at growing pumpkins – congratulations! And to answer your question, A 5-pound pumpkin will make about two 9-inch pies.
Q. Kelli in Georgia asks, “How long will my pumpkin last?”
A. That depends on several factors, some varieties keep longer than others of course but in general it comes down to a question of whether you carve the pumpkin or not! If you carve it and, like me, you live in a warm climate it may only last a couple of days. In all climates it is best if you wait to carve you pumpkin until a day before Halloween. Now if you do not carve it then that pumpkin can really hang around! Again, the storage life can vary between varieties. But if you harvest or purchase a pumpkin on October 1st, and choose a firm pumpkin with no soft spots or visible damage, it should easily store for 3 months if kept out of direct sun and in a cool spot that is also protected from frost.
Q. Larry in Canada asks, “I just saw a blue pumpkin in the local grocery. Blue! I was wondering though, is a blue pumpkin edible? Where do they come from?
A. Great news Larry, Yes, you can eat them! Jarrahdale pumpkins (see picture) come from New Zealand, and Queensland Blues come from Australia. They are both high-quality culinary pumpkins. They can be a bit difficult to carve because of their thick flesh and small cavities, but they have an exquisite taste and texture.
A. Okay Becky, let’s answer these in order…
First, pumpkins will grow almost anywhere. Pumpkins are successfully grown in every continent of the world except Antarctica.
Second, the length of time it takes to grow a pumpkin from seed to harvest will depend greatly on the variety of pumpkin you are growing but on average pumpkins take anywhere from 85 to 125 days to reach the perfect picking point.
Third, Pumpkins can get really big. All over the United States there are annual pumpkin growing contests and the largest pumpkin grown in the United States in 2007 was 1689 lbs!!! As one of the contest judges said, “You know, there’s a lot of pie in that pumpkin!”
Finally, pumpkin is a fruit. A fruit is defined as being the part of the plant which contains seeds. The average pumpkin contains about a cup of seeds, so they are most definitely a fruit.
Q. George of Texas asks, “I know you can make pumpkin pie and eat roasted pumpkin seeds but can I make anything else out of the pumpkins I am growing?”
A. The pumpkin is one of those amazing fruits where you can really get a lot out of it! You can eat the pumpkin flesh, seeds and blossoms! You can use pumpkin in more than just pies, things like Cakes, Breads, Cookies, Soups, Stews, Pumpkin Seeds, and Stuffed Pumpkin Blossoms are all delicious when made with pumpkin.
Q. Jan in Connecticut asks, “I saw a booth at the Farmers Market selling Heirloom Pumpkins. What are Heirlooms?
A. Heirlooms are the varieties that were grown generations ago, many dating back to hundreds of years old. They are open pollinated unlike the new hybrids on the market today. There are organizations who specialize in preserving heirloom seeds for future generations to come. One example is the Queensland Blue which was nearly lost to cultivation. A group of Australian gardeners worked together to bring back this treasured heirloom.
Many heirlooms have traits that modern growers saw as flaws. Some varieties are hard to germinate. Some have poor or inconsistent production. Sometimes heirlooms don't have uniform sizes. Modern scientists bred new hybrids specifically looking for high yields, uniformity in size and shape, ability to be bulk harvested, and ability to stand up to handling during transportation.
Along the way we all lost some very important things. . . TASTE and NUTRITION!
I firmly believe in the importance of preserving these old heirlooms that served us well for generations. Traditions are the foundation of families. I believe it important to honor those farming traditions.
Happy Gardening and Happy Fall!!