Another fall and autumn tradition that rings in the harvest is the squash that is commonly referred to as pumpkin. Pumpkins are considered winter squash as they are harvested when their skins have hardened as opposed to summer squash which are harvested when the skins are still soft (like a zucchini). Believe it or not, pumpkins are actually botanically considered a fruit as the seeds are on the inside. Yet, in culinary terms they are referred to as a vegetable.
Pumpkins are native to North America and one of the Native American Indian’s “Three Sisters” agricultural crops. Maize (corn), beans, and pumpkins were grown together and benefited from each other. The cornstalk provided support for the beans. The beans provided nitrogen and the squash provided ground covering thereby keeping weeds down and conserving soil moisture. (To learn more about the method of growing Three Sisters click here.) The Native Americans used dried strips of pumpkin to weave mats for their homes. Long pumpkin strips were also roasted and then eaten. The original pumpkin pie was created when the colonists stripped out the seeds from the interior of the pumpkin and filled it with milk, spices, and honey and “baked” it in the ashes of the fire.
Pumpkins in the U.S. are primarily grown in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California producing over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins annually. 95% of the pumpkin crop intended for processing is grown in Illinois. (source Wikipedia). Pumpkins are planted in July and harvested in October with a growing time of 85 to 125 days depending on the variety. Most parts of the pumpkin is edible including the flowers, fleshy shell, seeds, and even the leaves. Its bright orange color is evidence of beta-carotene. It is also loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. The seeds themselves are a great source of zinc, iron, and omega-3 fats. Pumpkins can be boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted. Mashed pumpkin is a common way of serving this as a harvest food. Pumpkin is oftentimes pureed to be used in various recipes including pumpkin pie.
At this time of year pumpkin flavored and scented products show up everywhere! Here’s a basic recipe on how to cook a pumpkin: A 5-lb pumpkin will yield two 9″ pies.
Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe? Please share if you do!