This time of year pumpkin moves to the front of our collective consciousness, not only because of their inexorable association with Halloween and Thanksgiving, but because they just seem to be everywhere. From the pumpkin pies to pumpkin donuts and bagels, to the pumpkin iced lattes to pumpkin-scented candles, we are bombarded with these funny-looking orange spheroids until we are out of our gourds.
Of course we also decorate with them. Many of us carve or paint pumpkins before displaying them on our front porches in a seasonal ritual, their toothy grins and triangle eyes flickering in the darkness of Halloween night. Pumpkins and gourds are in the Cucurbita family and thus are relatives of cucumbers, cantaloupes, squash, and watermelon.
According to the Cooperative Extension Service The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, gourds were probably one of the first plants domesticated by humans and were used for utensils as early as 2400 B.C.E. And come in sizes up to more than 2,000 pounds. A man in Rhode Island grew on to 2009 pounds this year, according to the Pumpkin Nook. The smallest are generally decorative Jack-o-lantern pumpkins range from 10- to 25-pounds.
According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University, in 2011, pumpkins valued at $113 million were harvested from 47,300 acres in six states: Illinois, California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Most pumpkins end up in canned pumpkin pie mixes. Nestlé Food Company’s Libby’s® pumpkin processing plant cans more than 85 percent of the world’s pumpkin each year.
It turns out that pumpkin is pretty good for us to eat. Self Magazine says that pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, and without salt is low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. Of course we often then add sugar, salt, eggs, and milk to pumpkin in our recipes.
You might be getting more than pumpkin when you get them, so know your source. Cucumber beetles, squash vine borers and squash bugs go after them. Says Planet Natural, bacterial wilt (spread by cucumber beetles), powdery mildew, downy mildew, and anthracnose are common plant diseases affecting pumpkins. Many pesticides are applied to fight these maladies. You can grow your own pumpkins organically, if you have the space; they can need 500 square feet for a single plant. At the very least, try to find your pumpkins at a local farm, rather than buying one shipped in from another state or county. After you finish carving and using the pumpkin, add it to the compost pile.
Think about that pumpkin
- Grow them yourself — or buy local and organic, if possible
- Eat the edible parts – they’re good for you
- Compost the parts you can’t otherwise use
- And this final tip from Sara — Do NOT put your wife in one’s shell!