(Excerpts of this piece were originally intended for another project but I thought it would be fun to share this today…especially as pumpkin pie is going to be a feature of so many Thanksgiving meals south of the border). 🍗 🍰🍷
More than just the ubiquitous feature of seasonal hot beverages and desserts, or decorations set out to greet trick-or-treaters and serve as the centerpiece on a bountiful Thanksgiving table, pumpkins are the fascinating subjects of myth, history, science…and sport. Whether you intend to eat, drink, grow, or hurl them, this list of pumpkin facts is guaranteed to help you get your festive groove on.
- One word: pie.
The heaviest pumpkin in the world was grown in Switzerland in 2014. It weighed 2,323 pounds (1,053 kilograms). The American record for heaviest pumpkin was set in 2015 by Gene McMullen, of Illinois. His massive prize-winner weighed 2,145 pounds (973 kilograms).
If you are looking to grow your own giant pumpkins, be prepared to supply them with plenty of cow manure, water, and sunlight. A goodly amount of labor is necessary to keep the vines properly pruned so that most of the energy of the plants are directed to fruit production – and so that the vines do not snap as the pumpkin’s girth increases. It is not unusual for pumpkins of the largest varieties to add an astonishing two inches (five centimeters) to their circumference every night.
The largest pumpkin pie was baked in 2010 in New Bremen, Ohio. It weighed 3,699 pounds (1,677 kilograms) and was 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter. There is no word on whether or not the world’s largest batch of whipped cream record was broken at the same time.
- They are mysterious.
Pumpkin, squash, gourd – what is the difference? It is all relative, really. All of these plants are part of the family Cucurbitaceae, which contains over 100 genera and 700 species (including melons). Botanists try to distinguish them all by categorizing characteristics such as leaves, seeds, and fruit, as well as their use. Most pumpkins are identifiable by their rounded, ribbed, hard skins – but then again, so are some gourds. And we should not refer to pumpkins as vegetables – they are, botanically, berries.
- You can hurl them with slingshots, trebuchets, or cannons.
If smashing pumpkins seems like fun (of course it does!), then why not go the whole hog and build a pumpkin cannon? Competitive pumpkin chucking (punkin chunkin) events are held annually all over the United States. The longest pumpkin chuck on record took place in Moab, Utah, in September 2010: the cucurbit flew 5,545.43 feet (1,690.24 meters) from a pneumatic cannon dubbed “Big 10 Inch.” Pumpkins-to-be-chucked must have thick enough skins to be able to handle the G-forces of the launch without breaking in mid-air, which would result in a disqualification.
- They come in many colors.
Do you think all pumpkins have orange rinds? Definitely not! While red pumpkins are not much of a stretch, ghostly white varieties such as ‘Casper’ and ‘Lumina’ are the new superstars of designer Hallowe’en centerpieces. The appropriately-monikered ‘Baby Boo’ is the tiniest of the white bunch, with a mere three-inch (7.6 centimeter) diameter. There are even blue pumpkins, of which the Australian-bred ‘Jarrahdale’ and the lightly speckled ‘Blue Moon’ are probably the most common. Orange-skinned pumpkins may have more beta carotene and other orange pigments than those sporting more exotic hues, but nearly all pumpkins, regardless of their rind color, have orange flesh.
- They are cooler than turnips.
The tradition of carving a pumpkin into a Jack o-Lantern for Hallowe’en has murky origins in Irish legend: a man named Stingy Jack twice tricked the devil and was not allowed into heaven or hell after his death. Forced to roam in perpetual night, Jack carried before him a lantern made of a carved turnip, its innards removed and replaced with a lump of burning coal. During the festival of Samhain, which marks the end of the harvest season and the entrance into the dark winter months, celebrants often carried lighted turnips, beets, and even potatoes. The practice was later adopted for Hallowe’en. When Irish and Scottish settlers arrived in North America, they found that pumpkins were a plentiful, native crop long grown by indigenous peoples. It was also obvious pumpkins were far better candidates for carving than turnips. It is only recently that pumpkin decorating has become popular in Europe.
- Canned pumpkin means more pie.
The sweet and tasty glop that we buy in the store is not actually the puréed flesh of the same cultivars of aesthetically-pleasing pumpkins we usually cut into Jack o-Lanterns. Pumpkin varieties that are slightly less pretty, but far more creamy and delicious (such as ‘Dickinson’), are usually used for processed pumpkin products. Eighty percent of all pumpkins in the United States are grown in the state of Illinois – most near the village of Morton, where 100,000 tons (90,718 tonnes) of pumpkins are processed annually. Ninety-five percent of all those pumpkins end up in a can.
- There are lots of them.
While the United States grows a serious wagon-load of pumpkins – nearly all them sold during the month of October – China is actually the largest producer of pumpkins in the world. In 2015, China grew nearly 7,716,179 metric tons (7 million metric tonnes) of pumpkins and other squash, mostly for domestic consumption. The world’s largest exporter of pumpkins and other squash is Spain, which supplies most of Europe with cucurbits. Unsurprisingly, the United States imports the most pumpkins on the planet, primarily from Mexico. Much of this production is for processed (canned) pumpkin products.
Modern brewmasters are not merely jumping onto a seasonal bandwagon: pumpkin beer has a long history in the United States. In the 17th century, when sugar and malt were not easy commodities to attain, pumpkins were plentiful substitutes and pressed into service for beer-making. By the mid-1800’s, malt was readily accessible but pumpkin remained a staple of quality brews.
- They go well with cinnamon.
Since when did the flavor and scent of a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger come to represent the single ingredient “pumpkin” in cooking and baking, fragrances, home décor items, and those famous lattes? If you have ever eaten a piece of cooked pumpkin, you will notice it is pretty bland, and benefits from the addition of other ingredients to make it more pleasing to the palate. In the 1950’s, commercial spice companies recognized the marketing potential of premixing the home baker’s pumpkin pie spices for convenience – and the rest is history. Nowadays we sometimes forget that pumpkin does not actually contain any cinnamon.
1.They have many edible parts.
Each pumpkin contains an average of 500 seeds.This depends, of course, on the size and variety of pumpkin. Most pumpkins take between 95 and 120 days to produce seeds, so do not waste them – eat them! (Here’s a good recipe). Pumpkin flowers are also edible, but pick them sparingly if you want to harvest pumpkins later on.