Characteristics commonly used to define "pumpkin" include smooth and slightly ribbed skin, and deep yellow to orange color.
Around 2005, white pumpkins started to become increasingly popular in the United States.
Pumpkins, like other squash, are native to North America.
Pumpkins are widely grown for commercial use, and are used both in food and recreation.
While pumpkin pie is a traditional part of Thanksgiving meals in the United States, although commercially canned pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash than the pumpkins frequently carved as Jack O'Lanterns for decoration around Halloween.
And yes, as is today, the pumpkin is a symbol of harvest time for at least 400 years in America.
Did you know that the Irish brought the tradition of carving gourds to America?
Pumpkin carving evolved from the traditions of this annual event.
But, it wasn't pumpkins that were being carved in these ancient times. Pumpkins are native to America, and were not known to the Celtic people of Ireland. They carved turnips and rutabagas.
It's true! The tradition originally started with the carving of turnips.
When the Irish immigrated to the U.S., they found pumpkins a plenty and they were much easier to carve for their ancient holiday.
On the night which we call Halloween, glowing Jack O'Lanterns carved from turnips or gourds were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones, but also to act as protection against malevolent spirits.
Burning lumps of coal were used inside as a source of light, later to be replaced by candles.
When European settlers, particularly the Irish, arrived in America they found the native pumpkin to be larger, easier to carve and seemed the perfect choice for jack-o-lanterns.
Halloween didn't really catch on big in this country until the late 1800's and has been celebrated in so many ways ever since!
What's in a Name?
Pumpkins are indigenous to the western hemisphere and were completely unknown in Europe before the time of Columbus.
The name pumpkin originated from "pepon" – the Greek word for "large melon."
But, believe it or not, the term “pumpkin” has no agreed upon botanical or scientific meaning, and is used interchangeably with "squash" and "winter squash" in some areas.
Pumpkin refers to certain cultivars of squash, most commonly those of Cucurbita pepo, that are round, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin and deep yellow to orange coloration.
The thick shell contains the seeds and pulp. Some exceptionally large cultivars of squash with similar appearance have also been derived from Cucurbita maxima.
Specific cultivars of winter squash derived from other species, including C. argyrosperma, and C. moschata, are also sometimes called "pumpkin".
In New Zealand and Australian English, the term "pumpkin" generally refers to the broader category called winter squash elsewhere.
While pumpkins have been introduced to all corners of the world, pumpkins have been grown in America for over 5,000 years. Native Americans called pumpkins "isqoutm, or isquotersquash."
Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine. American Indians used pumpkin as a staple in their diets centuries before the pilgrims landed.
When Pilgrims and other white settlers arrived, they saw the pumpkins grown by the Indians. That's when pumpkin soon became a staple in their diets as well.
Pilgrims took pumpkins, pies, and seeds back to England, and they quickly became popular.
Just as today, early settlers used pumpkins in a wide variety of recipes, from desserts to stews and soups.
And that's just some of the ways they found to eat pumpkin for themselves, they soon found out that livestock also took to pumpkins and there were others uses for pumpkins including also drying the shells and cut strips to weave into mats.
Did you know that pumpkins are not a vegetable - they are a fruit?
The oldest evidence, pumpkin-related seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 BCE, has been found in Mexico.
Pumpkin Beer, Coffee, Ice Cream?
Yup! Several breweries produce a seasonal pumpkin ale, and the pumpkin spice latte is one of the most popular seasonal items sold during the Autumn months at Starbucks.
The largest "official" pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,340 pounds. The largest "unofficial" pumpkin ever grown weighed 1'458 pounds, but was not awarded due to damage.
The Connecticut field variety is the traditional American pumpkin.
But they are especially plentiful during the fall and early winter around Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States and Canada.
Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.
The first and simplest of all pumpkin puddings made by the Pilgrims, involved picking the pumpkin, washing it, hollowing it out, filling it with cream or milk, and baking it whole. This is what developed into pumpkin pie about 50 years after that first Thanksgiving.
In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.
Early colonists preserved pumpkins by drying them. First the skin was peeled and the insides scooped out. The pulp was sliced and placed on drying racks, or hung up to dry in the sun.
Colonists sliced off pumpkin tips; removed seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin of pumpkin pie.
The pumpkin was an early export to France; from there it was introduced to Tudor England, and the flesh of the “pompion” was quickly accepted as pie filler.
During the seventeenth century, pumpkin pie recipes could be found in English cookbooks, such as Hannah Woolley's The Gentlewoman's Companion, which was published in 1675.
The recipes did not appear in American cookbooks until the early nineteenth century.
Pumpkin pie did not become a common addition to the Thanksgiving dinner until the early nineteenth century.
The Pilgrims brought the pumpkins and pumpkin pie back to New England, while the English method of cooking the pumpkin took a different course.
In the 19th century, the English pumpkin pie was prepared by stuffing the pumpkin with apples, spices, and sugar and then baking it whole.
Many companies produce seasonal pumpkin pie-flavored products such as ice cream, coffee, cheesecake, pancakes, candy, and beer.
Throughout much of the United States it is traditional to serve pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner.
Commercially made pumpkin pie mix is made from Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita moschata. "Libbey Select" uses the Select Dickinson Pumpkin variety of C. moschata for its canned pumpkins.
Many recipes, among them Pie and Cheesecake, include eggs and whole milk or half and half. The end product is outstanding in taste!
As for pumpkins and Thanksgiving?
Well, there are reports and documentation that say pumpkins were a part of the first Thanksgiving meal of the Pilgrims and the Indians.
Pumpkins from that time forward, have been, and continue to be a tradition at the Thanksgiving feast.
Not only is it associated with the meal itself, but the pumpkin has adorned and decorated homes and communities in honor of this event for hundreds of years.
Pumpkin and your Health
Pumpkins are 90 percent water. Pumpkins are rich in Vitamin A and potassium. And yes, they are also high in fiber.
Pumpkin, raw, Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz), Energy 109 kJ (26 kcal):
Carbohydrates 6.5 g, Sugars 2.76 g, Dietary fiber 0.5 g, Fat 0.1 g, Protein 1 g, Vitamin A equiv. 426 μg (53%), beta-carotene 3100 μg (29%), lutein and zeaxanthin 1500 μg, Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.05 mg (4%), Riboflavin (vit. B2) 0.11 mg (9%), Niacin (vit. B3) 0.6 mg (4%), Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.298 mg (6%), Vitamin B6 0.061 mg (5%), Folate (vit. B9) 16 μg (4%), Vitamin C 9 mg (11%), Vitamin E 0.44 mg (3%), Vitamin K 1.1 μg (1%), Calcium 21 mg (2%), Iron 0.8 mg (6%), Magnesium 12 mg (3%), Manganese 0.125 mg (6%), Phosphorus 44 mg (6%), Potassium 340 mg (7%), Sodium 1 mg (0%), Zinc 0.32 mg (3%)
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
The conclusion you should now be reaching is that they are therefore good for you. From a medicinal standpoint, pumpkins have been used for a variety of ailments - so go ahead and have that second piece of pumpkin pie, after all, it's good for you!.
Are Pumpkins a "Miracle Fruit"?
Pumpkins just might be a miracle fruit because researchers are working at figuring out just how good they are for us.
Preliminary research indicates that phytochemicals found in pumpkin may favorably affect insulin and glucose levels in laboratory diabetes models.
Two compounds isolated from pumpkin paste and then fed daily to diabetic rats over six weeks, trigonelline and nicotinic acid, caused significant reductions in blood glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides, indicating improvement in the diabetic condition.
And though we all know, bringing down cholesterol is combats heart disease, the benefits of pumpkins don't stop there.
As said before, pumpkins are considered fruit, but did you know that both pumpkin seeds and flowers are edible. Pumpkin seeds can be roasted as a snack and are good for your health.
The Native Americans found pumpkins to be good for us. And yes, today we are certain that pumpkin -especially the seeds - can help prevent prostate cancer in men.
Pumpkins were also once recommended for removing freckles and treating snake bites. I guess, after you're bit, just kick back and have a slice and all will be fine - or maybe not!
Other uses of pumpkins?
Well, its said that canned pumpkin is often recommended by veterinarians as a dietary supplement for dogs and cats that are experiencing certain digestive ailments such as constipation, diarrhea, and even hairballs.
As for us humans, the high fiber content helps to aid proper digestion.
Raw pumpkin can be fed to poultry, as a supplement to regular feed, during the winter to help maintain egg production, which usually drops off during the cold months.
Did you know that pumpkins are now grown all over the world?
Yes, since its discovery in America, it is a fact that six of the seven continents can grow pumpkins.
Antarctica is the only continent that they won't grow in. Pumpkins even grow in Alaska!
Did you know that the "pumpkin capital" of the world is Morton, Illinois? Yes, this self proclaimed pumpkin capital is where you'll find the home of the Libby corporation's pumpkin industry.
As one of the most popular crops in the United States, 1.5 billion pounds (680,000,000 kilograms) of pumpkins are produced each year. The top pumpkin-producing states include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.
According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, 95% of the U.S. crop intended for processing is grown in Illinois.
Nestlé, operating under the brand name Libby's, produces 85% of the processed pumpkin in the United States, at their plant in Morton, Illinois. In the fall of 2009, rain in Illinois devastated the Nestlé crop, resulting in a shortage affecting the entire country during the Thanksgiving holiday season.
Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop that is usually planted in early July.
And how about Pumpkin Chucking?
Yes, it is a competitive activity in which teams build various mechanical devices designed to throw a pumpkin as far as possible.
Catapults, Trebuchets, Ballistas and even Air Cannons are the most common mechanisms.
Believe it or not, there are Gamers in every sport, and in Pumpkin Chucking some pumpkin chuckers breed and grow special varieties of pumpkin under specialized conditions to improve the pumpkin's chances of surviving a throw.
So when is "pie" a bad thing? Well, in pumpkin chucking, when a pumpkin doesn't hold together on launch - that's called "pie"! For chuckers, a pumpkin coming apart and turning into pumkin haze in the air is the worse site there is.
About 20 years ago, I waded through the mob over on the California coast at one of my favorite places on earth, Half Moon Bay, California - which on normal days is only about an hour from where I used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
On the weekend of the Annual Pumpkin Festival, its bumper to bumper over the hills to the tiny town, and that hour trip may take two or more. And yes, once there, it's a mad house sort of festival of fun and good foods.
Pumpkin growers in the area compete to see whose pumpkins are the most massive. And yes, the ffestival is a time for this to take place.
Half Moon Bay's annual Pumpkin Festival draws over 250,000 visitors each year and includes the World Champion Pumpkin Weigh-Off.
The Weigh-Off is where farmers from all over the US compete to determine who can grow the heaviest pumpkin. The winning pumpkin regularly tops the scale at more than 1500 pounds.
Leonardo Urena, from Napa, California, grew the winner of the 2011 Weigh-Off with a 1,704-pound Atlantic Giant, setting a new California State record.
The record for the world's heaviest pumpkin was broken on September 30, 2012, at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts when Ron Wallace of Greene, Rhode Island, entered a pumpkin weighing 2,009 pounds.
And yes, as expected, Guinness World Records is always recording who is the newest winner.
So besides using pumpkins to make my favorite pies, feed livestock, and cut up at Halloween, pumpkins are used to make soups, breads, beers, coffees, ice creams, and they are good for us medically.
Oh, and yes, they are also people who love to chuck them.
But for me, as much fun as pumpkin chucking looks, I take my pumpkin in pies.
The way I look at it, I'm tired of people telling me what's bad for me. Let me be an adult, and yes, trust me that I'm smart enough to know what is good for me and waht's not.
With everything being labeled as being bad for us, it seems that there really aren't that many things anymore that people will not slap a WARNING labe on. And no, I don't really know if they have gotten to pumpkin pies or not!
But I do know this, they taste great and are really good for us. Besides being nutritious, they taste wonderful and are good for the soul!
So my friends, now that we know just how wonderful and healthy pumkins are for us, this information can be used as a great excuse to our really needing that second piece!
Story by Tom Correa