|From the legend of the Jack O'Lantern and "chucking", to growing, health benefits and pumpkin trivia, let's find out more about this amazing fruit.|
The Jack O'Lantern Legend
An Irish myth began the ritual of the Jack O'Lantern, but the original Jack O'Lantern wasn't even a pumpkin. There are quite a few versions of the story, but here is one that seems very popular.
There was a horrible, cruel man who drank too much and enjoyed playing tricks on other people. His name was Stingy Jack. One day Stingy Jack even tricked the devil himself into climbing a tree to get some fruit. While the devil was in the tree, Stingy Jack quickly placed crosses around the tree trunk and the devil wasn't able to climb down. The devil made a deal with Stingy Jack that if Jack let him come down from the tree, the devil promised never to take his soul. So Stingy Jack let the devil come down.
When Jack finally died, he wasn't allowed into heaven because he had been so awful on earth. The devil wouldn't take him either because they had made a deal. So Jack had no where to go except to wander around in the dark forever. The devil gave him a burning coal so he could see. Jack put the coal in a hollowed out turnip and has been wandering around the earth without a resting place ever since.
The Irish originally called him "Jack of the Lantern" and later shortened it to Jack O'Lantern.
On all Hallow's Eve, lights were placed in hollowed out turnips, potatoes, beets and gourds, and put in windows to ward off evil spirits. When Irish immigrants came to America they discovered that pumpkins were easier to carve because they were much bigger. So that's how pumpkins became Jack O'Lanterns.
Pumpkins are actually fruit, even though they're usually referred to as vegetables. They're made up of approximately 90% water. The average pumpkin contains about one cup of seeds. They come in lots of colors including green, red, yellow, tan, white, blue and multi-colored stripes. They can be big, tiny, round, oblong, tall, flat, smooth, ribbed or bumpy. The various varieties have great names like Spooktacular, Sweetie Pie, Funny Face, Ghost Rider, Baby Boo, Happy Jack and Jack-Be-Littles.
Pumpkins are easy to grow. So easy, in fact, that if you throw them in your compost pile they just might start to grow right there. They're a warm weather crop and do best if the seeds are planted directly in the ground in full sun. Dig lots of compost into the ground a few weeks before planting. Mound up the soil in hills and plant about six seeds per hill. (Mounding isn't really necessary unless your soil has poor drainage.) When the first true leaves appear, thin to two to three plants per hill. The vines can grow up to 30 ft. long, so be sure to leave plenty of room for them to spread out. Most varieties take between 85-125 days to mature. Check seed packets to find days to maturity and size for each variety.
Water well when you plant them and again about a week later. Since pumpkins are about 90% water they obviously require a lot of water while growing. Water deeply, but only when soil starts to dry out and plants get slightly limp. Try not to get water on the leaves since they're prone to fungal diseases.
Pumpkins are heavy feeders, so when fruit starts forming on the vines, apply fertilizer. Don't over fertilize though or you could end up with a great crop of leaves but very few pumpkins. Time release fertilizer is a good option.
Do keep your pumpkin patch weeded and keep an eye out for pests. Squash borers, cucumber beetles and aphids are all common problems for pumpkins. Powdery mildew is also a recurring problem. Prevent spreading this disease by not handling wet vines and keeping your garden clean. Unfortunately lots of critters like pumpkins too. Rabbits, deer, squirrels and woodchucks have all been known to dine in pumpkin patches. Pepper and garlic sprays have proved effective in discouraging them.
Pumkins are ready to harvest when the rind gets hard. Vines may start to decline and orange pumpkins will turn a deep, solid orange color. Cut pumpkins off the vines leaving 3-6" of stem attached. Pumpkins generally last longer with stems on them. Store in a well ventilated area kept at about 50 deg. F.
Food and Health Benefits
Pumpkins are used to prepare a variety of foods. The pulp, seeds and flowers are all edible. In addition to the well-known pumpkin pie, pumpkins are also used in cookies, soup, pudding, ice cream, marmalade and even beer, to name a few. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of vitamins A and B, protein, potassium, zinc and magnesium. The medical benefits include anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory, and claims have been made that they lower cholesterol. Both the pulp and seeds are said to be home remedies for acne, prostate problems and stomach ailments.
Competitive pumpkin chucking is a popular event at harvest festivals. Teams build contraptions like catapults and air canons to try to throw pumpkins as far as possible. If the pumpkin doesn't break when it lands, thats even better. People take this so seriously that pumpkins are specially bred for this activity.
*Pumpkins are fruit.
*Pumpkins are used for feed for animals such a cattle, pigs, goats and chickens.
*Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.
*In early colonial times, pumpkins were used an an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.
*Colonists sliced off pumpkin tips, removed seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin of the pumpkin pie.
*Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.
*They're a popular item for fall decorating.
*A five pound pumpkin will make about two 9" pies.
*Cinderella, Baby Pam and Lumina are good pumpkins for pies.
*The blue pumpkins, Jarrahdale from New Zealand and Queensland Blues from Australia, are edible.
*Pumpkins are low in calories, extremely low in fat and high in fiber.
*In the United States, more than 50 million pumpkin pies are baked and consumed each year.
*The town of Morton, Illinois, is the self-declared pumpkin capital of the world.
*The world record heaviest pumpkin was grown in New Richmond, Wisconsin in 2010 and weighed 1810.5 pounds.
*Giant pumpkins can grow 30-40 pounds a day.
*1.5 billion pounds (680,000,000 kilograms) of pumpkins are produced each year.
*Canned pumpkin is often recommended by veterinarians as a dietary supplement for dogs and cats that are experiencing digestive problems.
*Raw pumpkin can be fed to poultry, as a supplement to regular feed, during the winter to help maintain egg production.
*Pumpkins are members of the cucurbit family along with squash, cucumbers, luffas and watermelons.
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
2 cups pumpkin seeds, cleaned and washed
1 tablespoon corn or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1-2 teaspoons salt
In bowl, mix oil, butter and salt. Mix in seeds and coat well. Spread on baking sheet and bake at 225 deg. F. for an hour, stirring frequently.
You can also add chili powder, garlic salt, soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce for different flavors.
Pumpkin Pie Dessert Squares
(easy, delicious fall treat!)
1 package yellow cake mix 15.25 oz. (less one cup - see topping below)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 pound solid pack pumpkin
2-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
(Or instead of above 3 ingredients, use a 1 lb., 14 oz. can pumpkin pie mix)
2/3 cup milk
1 cup reserved cake mix
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
Grease bottom only of 9x13 pan. Reserve 1 cup cake mix for topping. Mix remaining cake mix, butter and egg. Press into pan. Prepare filling by combining all ingredients until smooth. Pour over crust. For topping, combine all ingredients until crumbly and sprinkle over filling. Bake at 400 deg. F. for approximately 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. May be served with whipping cream, if desired.
Who would have thought that one type of fruit could have this many uses! I hope this inspires you to try something new with pumpkins this year.