Pumpkins: Did you know…?

Pumpkins may look big and clumsy. But consider their agility: pie filling, nutritious vegetable, and Jack o’Lantern all in one big vegetable. But not all pumpkins are created big. They can range in size from less than a pound to over a 1,000 pounds.

There are tiny ornamental varieties with cute seed names like ‘Baby Boo’, ‘Sweetie Pie’ and ‘Munchkin’. There are also small sweet pumpkins bred for pie fillings.

Spooktacular names
The names of the standard orange globes tell you their destiny. ‘Funny Face’ ‘Spooktacular’ and ‘Trick or Treat’ are a few of these varieties. 

The jumbo ones are called ‘Big Max’, ‘Big Moon’ and ‘Prizewinner’. They’re bred for weight and the record books.

Drought affecting numbers
This year, drought in parts of Canada has affected the pumpkin crop. Bill Boots of Boot’s Farms in Scotland, southwestern Ontario says “we’re only picking half our normal crop this year.” He says the lack of rain has also affected the size of his pumpkins.

He recommends consumers look for a solid stem on any pumpkin. These will keep better. He says look, too, for a solid, deep orange colour. Thiindicates the pumpkin is mature.

Boots markets several varieties of pumpkin, including the smaller sized pie pumpkins. He says these pie pumpkins are also perfect for mini Jack o’Lanterns.

Origins of lanterns
The first Jack o’Lanterns weren’t pumpkins but turnips, according to the Pumpkin Nook Internet site. The tradition of light inside hollowed out vegetables comes from old Irish fables about Stingy Jack, a nasty fellow who wasn’t wanted, even by the Devil. 

After Irish immigrants came to North America, they adapted the custom to the indigenous pumpkins they found here. These were bigger and easier to hollow out.

Some carving tips
The Halloween How-to Internet site has offered good tips for carving pumpkins.

  • When you cut out the lid, make a small notch in the back of it. This helps you remember how the lid fits. It also lets smoke and heat escape, and air inside for the candle.
  • Peel away the tough orange outer skin with a paring knife or peeler. This gives contrast between the white underskin and the exterior. Light from a votive candle inside will show through the peeled pumpkin, giving it a translucent look.
  • Glue flowers, leaves, berries, pods, petals, cones and vines onto the pumpkin with peanut butter, toothpicks or a glue gun.
  • Use vegetables for various features-cucumbers impaled on toothpicks for eyes; green bean eyebrows; carrot nose; peas for teeth-also anchored with toothpicks.
  • Cabbage leaves make a stunning hairdo. Or attach long beans or raffia.
  • Cut the ends off any exposed toothpicks with garden pincers.

Nutrition facts
When it comes to further pumpkin versatility, consider these nutrition facts:

  • The bright orange colour signals it has beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A in the body.
  • Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, according to current research.
  • Pumpkin boiled or baked contains fibre, calcium, and important minerals such as magnesium and potassium.
  • Pumpkins are 90 per cent water. 

Pumpkin origins
The Internet site for University of Illinois Extension offers these other pumpkin facts:

  • Pumpkins originated in Central America.
  • The name pumpkin originated from ‘pepon’ – the Greek word for ‘large melon.’
  • Pumpkins are members of the vine crops family called cucurbits.
  • Native Americans called pumpkins “isqoutm squash.”
  • Native Americans flattened strips of pumpkins, dried them and made mats.
  • They also roasted long strips of pumpkin for food, and used the seeds for food and medicine.
  • Most people know the seeds can be roasted as a snack-but pumpkin flowers are also edible.

Pumpkin pie went through several stages. It began as baked pumpkin. Pioneers sliced off the pumpkin tops, removed the seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. They baked these filled shells in hot ashes. 

Nowadays, Weight Watchers suggest a lower calorie alternative to pumpkin pie that sounds similar to this early pioneer recipe. Since two thirds of the calories are in the piecrust, you could prepare the pumpkin filling as usual, bake it in an ovenproof dish, and have the taste of pumpkin pie without the calories.