Pumpkins! Gourds, Ghosts, and Swamp Gas; Pepitas, Pesto and Pie

Pile_of_pumpkinsPumpkins: you’re out of your gourd. Although sometimes described as squash because of their botanical classification, pumpkins are actually part of the gourd family Cucurbitaceae . The common pumpkin is Cucurbita pepo. The pumpkin grows on vines, and is rich in beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, potassium and iron.

An American Original. The pumpkin is native to the New World and was cultivated by the indigenous people who lived here, an integral part of the agricultural trifecta of corn-beans-pumpkin. Explorers and colonists in North America took the pumpkin back to Europe and around the world, starting in the late 15th Century.

The Turnip-o-lantern? In the olden days, Jack-O-Lanterns weren’t made exclusively from pumpkins. Candles were traditionally placed inside turnips and other vegetables — the main need was something solid and somewhat heatproof that could keep the candle from blowing out on a cold, dark night. These candles had to have openings for the light to shine through, and from this the human face of the Jack-O-Lantern evolved.

Pretty, pretty swamp gas. The term Jack-o-Lantern itself came from the name for that otherworldly, ghostly light, also known as the will-o-the-wisp, caused by not-so-otherworldly combustion of methane gas over swamps and marshes at night.

Leave the light on. The glowing pumpkin, set on the front porch, signals today’s trick-or-treaters that the home’s inhabitants are game for handing out candy to costumed kids. (Des Moines kids, don’t forget to have a riddle, joke, or trick at the ready!).

In the olden days, the jack-o-lantern on the cottage doorstep, or flickering in the window, welcomed your ancestors home. The last day of October, All Hallows Eve (or Samhain), was anxiously observed as the night before the very holy All Saints’ Day. Folklore held that this was the night when the veil between the world of the living and the world beyond was lifted, and your departed loved ones’ spirits could come visit you — if there was a light to help welcome your ancestors home.

Speaking of olden days, people also used to think that pumpkins were a good “cure” for freckles. (As if a freckled face was something that needed “curing,” sheesh).

Pumpkin pie, kickin’ it old-school. Pumpkin pies of colonial times were a far cry from today’s crust-and-canned filling. In fact, they weren’t technically even pies. Here’s what they did: The top of the pumpkin was sliced off, the “guts” scooped out, and the hollow cavity filled with milk, spices and something sweet like maple syrup or honey. The filled pumpkin went into the hot ashes of the hearth to bake for six to seven hours, filling the house with a good smell. When the baked pumpkin softened inside, people scooped the sweet, spiced baked pumpkin from the shell with a spoon.

The contemporary Cucurbita pepo: Enjoy some thoroughly modern pumpkin dishes. We’ve got a lot of recipes for pumpkin dishes here on the website. Check out these innovative ideas:

What’s more, you can spice up ordinary pumpkin-free foods and bring a taste of autumn to your hot coffee and tea beverages with a dash of our exclusive Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend.  (Check out this full list of recipes that use Pumpkin Pie Spice).

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