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Pumpkins Are a Fab-Boo-Licious Food

Photo courtesy of University of Missouri Extension

COLUMBIA, Mo. – “This fall, millions of Americans will make an annual pilgrimage to a retail outlet to purchase a vegetable they, unfortunately, are unlikely to eat,” said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.

In the United States, this colorful member of the gourd family sells mainly for decoration. Yet pumpkins offer a smashing good way to spice up fall meals. Many people throughout the world use them as a staple in their daily diets.

Cultivated since about 3500 B.C., pumpkin rivals corn as one of the oldest known crops in the Western Hemisphere, Trinklein said. One way American colonists prepared pumpkins was to remove the seeds, fill the inside with milk, spices and honey, and bake the pumpkin in hot ashes. This verse from about 1630 suggests that American colonists relied heavily on pumpkin for food:

      • For pottage and puddings and custard and pies,
      • Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies:
      • We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
      • If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon.

Today, consumer demand drives plant breeders to focus on ornamental appeal rather than table quality. Modern pumpkins mature into a deep orange color much earlier, and most varieties now bear a large stem that can serve as a convenient handle. Another new development is pumpkins with rinds covered with warts, which can make jack-o’-lanterns look more ghoulish.

When selecting a pumpkin for fall decoration, use the “thumbnail test” to make sure it’s fully mature. If you can pierce the rind with your thumbnail, the pumpkin will not store well.

Pumpkin is high in beta carotene, a red-orange pigment that the body converts into vitamin A. It is also a good source of dietary fiber. The spices used in pumpkin pie have health benefits of their own. “Not many people could tolerate taking allspice directly to benefit from its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and stomach-calming properties,” Trinklein said. “However, consumed in a piece of pumpkin pie, it tastes rather delightful.”

Trinklein offered some “pun”-king trivia for those who “orange” ready for pumpkin season yet:

            • Pumpkins have grown in North America for more than 5,000 years.
            • Morton, Ill., the self-proclaimed “Pumpkin Capital of the World,” hosts an annual Punkin Chuckin’ Contest in which competitors use elaborate mechanical devices to lob pumpkins across great distances.
            • According to Guinness World Records, the heaviest pumpkin ever grown weighed 2,624 pounds, more than some subcompact cars. The gargantuan gourd was grown in 2016 by Mathias Willemijns of Belgium.
            • Guinness World Records gives the title of largest pumpkin pie to a confection made in 2010 at the New Bremen Pumpkinfest in Ohio. The pie weighed 3,699 pounds and measured 20 feet in diameter. Giant pumpkins were not used in the pie. Instead, it was made with 1,212 pounds of canned pumpkin. Other ingredients included 233 dozen eggs, 109 gallons of evaporated milk, a quarter-ton of sugar, 7 pounds of salt and 14.5 pounds of cinnamon.
            • Pumpkins were once thought to eliminate freckles and cure snakebites.