Pumpkins are placed in the scientific group called Cucurbita, a group that includes squash, cantaloupes, cucumbers, watermelon and gourds. In fact, pumpkins, summer squash, acorn squash and zucchini are all varieties of the same species of plant!
Pumpkins are fruit. There are over 800 different varieties grown in the warmer regions of every continent except Antarctica.
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Pumpkins come in many shapes, sizes and hues. Mature pumpkins vary from round to oblong and have a smooth firm flesh with a hard grooved rind. Pumpkins come in many colors besides the common orange that we expect—there is even a blue variety grown in Eastern Europe. They range in size from less than a pound to over a 1,000 pounds. The largest pumpkin on record weighed 1,140 pounds.
Over 1.7 billion pounds of pumpkin are produced annually in the United States. Pumpkins are grown in every state (including Alaska) on over 10,000 farms. 75,000 acres of farmland are used for raising pumpkins. At 25%, Illinois produces the greatest percentage of the U.S. crop. California comes in second, at 10%. There is little interstate trade in pumpkins; nearly all pumpkins purchased come from local farms. The per capita use of pumpkins is about 6 pounds. Most pumpkins are processed into pie filling. The second largest use is for decorative purposes. Close to 80% of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.
Since all pumpkins are harvested by hand, consider the human effort to get the pumpkin from the field to you.Consider the deaths of animals thought of as pests to the pumpkin: Spotted Cucumber Beetle, Striped Cucumber Beetle, Squash Bugs, Aphids and Two-spotted Spider Mites.
Be aware of another sacrifice: all the possible future pumpkin plants from the fruit that will not grow because the seeds have been removed.
Sense the energy of honey bees that were part of the pollination.
Honor the resources needed to grow a pumpkin, especially water (pumpkins are 90% water).
Pay attention to the wonderful texture of the pumpkin and its nutty flavor.
Realize that If you bought your pumpkin fresh at a market, the iron and zinc in the pumpkin came from the ground of a nearby farm.
Enjoy the color of this food, a color shared by few other foods.
When You Eat...
Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America and have been cultivated for over 7000 years. Seeds from related plants have been dated to 5,500 BC. Pumpkins were a staple in the diets of Native Americans centuries before the pilgrims landed. In addition to cooking with pumpkins they also dried the shells, cut them into strips and weaved them to make mats.
Pumpkins grow on long vines and require 50 to 100 square feet in which to grow. They take about four months to mature. The vine produces two flowers: male flowers (larger and growing up above the vines) and female flowers (smaller and close to the vine). At the base of the female flower is a tiny green pumpkin, ready to swell up to full size after pollination. Honey bees are the main agent of pollination, although some is done by human hand. All pumpkins are hand harvested.