Pumpkin Lattes… Pumpkin Scones… Pumpkin Beer… Pumpkin Egg Nog…Pumpkin Pie Smoothie….Pumpkin Risotto…Pickled Pumpkin…Pumpkin Pancakes…Pumpkin Donuts…Pumpkin Chili….we kid you not, Pumpkin Dog Treats….Pumpkin Soap….
October is synonymous with “pumpkin month”, but I asked myself: “Is it a gourd or a fruit?” Stumped. I wanted to share with you what I found to answer that question and carve into the history of the pumpkin for some tidbits you might not have known.
Jack O’ Lantern History
To trace the history of the beloved Jack O’ Lantern we go way back to a nineteenth century Irish fable, where an unhappy, mischievous trickster named Jack enjoyed pranking his peers to no end, often while enjoying one cocktail too many. Fable has it that one day Jack tricked the Devil himself into climbing an apple tree. While the Devil was lingering in the branches, clever Jack set crosses around the trunk of the tree, effectively trapping him in tree. Jack smartly made a deal with Devil: the Devil would not take his soul when he died and Jack would remove the crosses allowing the Devil to come down from the apple tree.
Because of his mischievous lifestyle, once Jack finally did pass-on he was not allowed into heaven. Stuck in the complete darkness of purgatory, Jack meekly asked the Devil for an ember from the flames to help him see. The Devil agreed and Jack happened to have a turnip with him, a staple food of the time. Jack carved a hole in the root vegetable and kept it lit with the ember. Forevermore, Jack haunts around in between heaven and hell with his lit turnip. Now you know: why “Jack”?; why a candle in a pumpkin?
More plentiful vegetables like turnips, rutabagas, beets, and potatoes were used as Jack O’ Lantern’s until the 1800s when the Irish began immigrating to America, where they discovered pumpkins. Soon it was discovered that pumpkins were easier to carve, decorate, and the Jack O’ Lantern as we know it today was born.
Origins of Cooking with Pumpkin
Pumpkins are indigenous to the western hemisphere and have been grown in North and Central America for five thousand years. Technically, pumpkins are considered a fruit. They are related to gourds, winter squashes, summer squash, melons and cucumbers.
When Europeans came to the America the Native Americans introduced the pilgrims to the gourds massive versatility. (In addition to eating pumpkins, Natives also pounded strips of pumpkin flat, dried them, and wove them into mats for trading.) The pilgrims enthusiastically embraced this new exciting winter squash, even allowing it take center-stage at the first Thanksgiving dinner, but not as pie. Food historians believe sweet pumpkin flesh was served by filling the shells with milk, honey and spices to make custard, then roasted whole over a hot fire.
This fall, try any of these unique recipes to keep your pumpkin palates keen.
Now You Know: Gourd or Fruit?
At this year’s costume party, you can impress everyone with your definitive answer: A pumpkin is not a vegetable; it’s a fruit! Pumpkins belong to the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes cucumbers, melons, squash, and gourds.