In Praise of the Pumpkin

Explore Autumn's ubiquitous squash. The pumpkin is a fall fruit with a rich heritage and flexible flavor that has been used for centuries.


| Fall 2016


If the tomato is the queen of garden vegetables, the pumpkin may well be the king. In fact, in some parts of China, it is called “Emperor of the garden.” And why not? No plant produces a larger edible fruit, and what other plant can yield tens (or even hundreds) of pounds of healthful, delicious eating from a single seed in only a few months’ time? Pumpkins are known and loved around the world, for their beauty as well as for the gifts they bestow so generously, asking so little in return.

What's In A Name?

A pumpkin is a winter squash, but not all winter squash are pumpkins. Confused? So is everyone else. The Oxford English Dictionary defines pumpkin as the large fruit of Cucurbita pepo, “egg-shaped or nearly globular, with flattened ends ... used in cookery, esp. for pies, and as a food for cattle ... ” On the Internet the definition is even more prosaic — a pumpkin is something that is used for jack-o-lanterns! Yet in Australia “pumpkin” is used to describe a number of non-round, non-pepo, non-jack-o-lantern-yielding squash varieties, and no apparent harm is done. And in the United States, the mainstream’s iconic Libby's canned pumpkin isn't really pumpkin at all, but is said to be Dickinson squash, which is a variety of Cucurbita moschata, is round or nearly so, but is possibly never used for carving jack-o-lanterns. It only goes to show how arbitrary are the lines between pumpkin and squash.

Whichever squash species any putative pumpkin may belong to, we're on firmer ground with the origin of the word itself. The French borrowed the word “pepon” from the Greeks, who used the moniker to denote a large melon. Over time the word morphed into “pompon,” then into “pompion;” Shakespeare corrupted that just a little further, into “pumpion.” Finally, in the American colonies, it became “pumpkin,” and, in a process still apparently going on, some folks today say “punkin.”



The Three Sisters

People of the Indian nations in many regions had for centuries cultivated beans, corns and pumpkins (or squashes) in a planting style collectively known as “Three Sisters” planting. The three crops, by their natures, interact and make life easier for each other, and for the farmer. Beans twine up the corn stalks, restoring nitrogen in the soil. Tall corn plants, rustling melodiously in the breeze, offer a bit of shelter and support to the pumpkin plants. These in turn shade out the soil, reducing weed growth and conserving soil moisture.







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