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Olga Shelego -

Pumpkins belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes cucumbers, melons, squash, and gourds. Within this family is the genus Cucurbita which includes all varieties of pumpkin.


Pumpkins are available in all shapes, colours and sizes, but one of the best known is the Jack 'o Lantern pumpkin C.Pepo, which can weigh as much as 100 pounds and is popular for carving at Halloween.

Origins and History of Pumpkins



The word pumpkin comes from the Greek pepon for a large melon. The English named it pumpion or pompion, a term which dates back to 1547.

Cultivated Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America and seeds from related plants found in Mexico date back to 5500 B.C. When the first settlers landed in the US, they found Native American Indians using pumpkin as a staple in their diets. It soon became a staple in the settlers' diets, too and the seeds were brought back to Europe, where pumpkins soon became popular. The origins of wild form is uncertain.

Pumpkins are now grown all over the world with Antarctica being the sole exception.


Halloween and Pumpkins


As folk lore would have it, the Jack 'o Lantern was named after a man called Jack, who was an infamous drunkard and trickster. He tricked Satan into climbing a tree then carved an image of a cross in the tree's trunk, thereby trapping the devil up the tree. He made a pact with the devil that, if the devil would never tempt him to wicked ways again, he would promise to let him down the tree.


However, after Jack died, not only was he was denied in to Heaven because of his previous evil ways but was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. The devil instead gave him a single ember to light his way through the darkness. This was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.


Halloween spread throughout Europe in the seventh century and began with "All Hallows Eve", the "Night of the Dead" (31st October) . It's not certain when turnips were replaced by pumpkins, but this was probably because they were larger and much easier to carve. European custom included the lighting of pumpkins with scary faces to ward of evil spirits who roamed abroad during All Hallows Eve.



Cultivation of Pumpkins


Pumpkins grow on vines on the ground. Seeds are planted from the last week of May to the middle of June, and germinate in about 7-10 days. During this time, seeds need moisture and warmth.


Once seeds have germinated, they will send up their first leaves, called seed leaves. The true leaves appear next and then yellow flowers blossom start to appear about 4 weeks later, first the male flowers then about a week later, the female flowers. Once both male and female blossoms appear on the vine, bees transfer the pollen between the two.


It takes 90-120 days for a pumpkin to grow after it has been planted. The plants frequent watering during their growing period. Ripe pumpkins are harvested in October. Ripe pumpkins contains seeds, which can be saved to grow new pumpkins the following year.



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Pumpkin in cooking


Pumpkin flesh has no cholesterol, is low in fat and sodium and rich in vitamins, in particular beta carotene and vitamin A. A truly versatile fruit, yes, it is a fruit not a vegetable, it can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. 


The seeds can be dried and oven roasted and served as a snack or fed to birds. Also, pureed pumpkin (recipe below) can be frozen for up to 6 months.



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