A pumpkin is a cultivar of a squash plant, most commonly of Cucurbita pepo, that is round, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin, and deep yellow to orange coloration.
A pumpkin, from a botanist‘s perspective, is a fruit because it’s a product of the seed-bearing structure of flowering plants. Vegetables, on the other hand, are the edible portion of plants such as leaves, stems, roots, bulbs, flowers, and tubers. Because pumpkins are less sweet and more savory from a culinary perspective, we categorize them as a vegetable.
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.”
The oldest archeological evidence of the domesticated pumpkin date back more than 7,000 years ago, and were found in parts of northwestern Mexico. Though its exact origin remains uncertain, somewhere in North America or Central America is most likely.
The first pumpkins held very little resemblance to the sweet, bright orange variety we are familiar with. The original pumpkins were small and hard with a bitter flavor. Rather than using their nutritional and readily available seeds, pre-Columbian natives grew pumpkins for their flesh. They were among the first crops grown for human consumption in North America. Thanks to their solid, thick flesh, pumpkins proved ideal for storing during cold weather and in times of scarcity.
It is said that Columbus carried pumpkin seeds back with him to Europe. There they were used to feed pigs, but not as a human food source.
Pumpkins were widely disseminated over time through trade, commerce, and other interactions with different continents.
Today, the pumpkin plant is harvested on six different continents; only Antarctica is unable to produce pumpkins.
Pumpkins are widely grown for commercial use and are used both in food and recreation.
There are now hundreds of different pumpkin varieties.
The biggest international producers of pumpkins are: China, India, Russia, Ukraine and the United States.
Pumpkins are one of the most popular crops in the United States. The top pumpkin-producing states include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.
Pumpkins, which produce very long annual vines, are planted individually or in twos or threes on little hills about 2.5 to 3 meters (8 to 10 feet) apart.
The stems are hairy and usually pentangular.
Tendrils are present at 90 degrees to the leaf petioles at nodes. (In botany, a tendril is a specialized stem, leaves or petiole with a threadlike shape that is used by climbing plants for support and attachment, generally by twining around suitable hosts found by touch.)
Leaves are large and dark green in color. They are divided in five lobes and have serrated edges. Leaves have prominent veins and they are covered with fine hairs.
Pumpkins are monoecious, having both male and female flowers, the latter distinguished by the small ovary at the base of the petals. These bright and colorful flowers have extremely short life spans, and may only open for as short a time as one day.
Pumpkin fruits are a type of botanical berry known as a pepo.
Pumpkins generally weigh between 3 and 8 kilograms (6 and 18 lb), though the largest cultivars regularly reach weights of over 34 kg (75 lb).
The heaviest pumpkin weighs 1,190.49 kg (2,624.6 lb), was grown by Mathias Willemijns (Belgium) and authenticated by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC) in Ludwigsburg, Germany, on 9 October 2016.
There are 26 calories in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of pumpkin.
Pumpkins are packed with nutrients, such as vitamin A, as well as moderate amounts of many other important compounds, including copper, iron, B vitamins, folate, vitamin E, phosphorous and magnesium.
The color of pumpkins derives from orange carotenoid pigments, including beta-cryptoxanthin, alpha and beta carotene, all of which are provitamin A compounds converted to vitamin A in the body.
Pumpkin has been connected to a number of health benefits, such as the ability to reduce cancer, improve vision, protect cardiovascular health, boost immunity, increase fertility, improve bone mineral density, and aid weight loss, among others.
Pumpkins are very versatile in their uses for cooking. Most parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the fleshy shell, the seeds, the leaves, and even the flowers.
In the United States and Canada, pumpkin is a popular Halloween and Thanksgiving staple.
When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, steamed, or roasted. In its native North America, it is a very important, traditional part of the autumn harvest, eaten mashed and making its way into soups and purees.
Pumpkin pie is often eaten during the fall and early winter. In the United States and Canada, it is usually prepared for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and is also featured at Halloween.
The largest pumpkin pie weighs 1,678 kg (3,699 lb) and was made by New Bremen Giant Pumpkin Growers (USA) at New Bremen Pumpkinfest in New Bremen, Ohio, USA, on 25 September 2010.
Pumpkins are commonly carved into decorative lanterns called jack-o’-lanterns for the Halloween season in North America. It is believed that the custom of making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween began in Ireland. The practice was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants who originally carved turnips into Jack-o’-lanterns. In America, pumpkins were more plentiful and cheaper than turnips, and so came about the switch from turnips to pumpkins.
The fastest time to carve a pumpkin is 16.47 seconds achieved by Stephen Clarke (USA) on PIX11 Morning News in New York, New York, USA, on 31 October 2013. The jack-o’-lantern is required to have a complete face, including eyes, nose, mouth and ears.
The fastest 100 meters paddled in a pumpkin is 2 min 0.3 sec and was achieved by Dmitri Galitzine (UK) at Trafalgar Wharf, Porchester, Hampshire, UK, on 23 May 2013. In accordance with the guidelines Galitzine used a standard, commercially available kayak paddle. The pumpkin used weighed 272.16 kg (600 lb).
Pumpkin chunking is a competitive activity in which teams build various mechanical devices designed to throw a pumpkin as far as possible. Catapults, trebuchets, ballistas and air cannons are the most common mechanisms.
The farthest distance to fire a pumpkin is 1,690.24 m (5,545.43 ft) and was achieved by Ralph J. Eschborn II, Alex C. Eschborn, Eric J. Eschborn, Pete Hill, Stefan Hill, John Piel, Verne Weidman, Don Brill, and Harry Harding (all USA) using their “Big 10 Inch” air cannon in Moab, Utah, USA, on 9 Sep f2010.
The most pumpkins smashed in one minute is 30, and was achieved by Conor Murphy (USA) at Reebok International Headquarters, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, on 14 November 2017.
There is a strong connection in folklore and popular culture between pumpkins and the supernatural. Famous examples include the following:
• A commonplace motif of people being turned into pumpkins by witches.
• The jack-o-lantern custom, which connects to Halloween lore about warding off demons.
• In the folk tale Cinderella, the fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a carriage, but at midnight it reverts to a pumpkin.