There is always going to be some confusion regarding whether the pumpkin is a fruit or a vegetable. Botanically speaking, pumpkins are a fruit due to the fact that it has seeds. Culinarilly speaking, pumpkins are considered a vegetable. Either way, we love them and can’t get enough of them.
Pumpkins and grammas are members of the Cucurbita (Cucurbitaceae) family which also includes the gourds, melons, zucchinis, squash and cucumbers. Traditionally Cucurbita maxima have been known as pumpkins and Cucurbita moschata have been known as grammas. In recent years, many people have called both these species pumpkins.
Cucurbita maxima have strong round stems with large roundish to kidney-shaped leaves that are slightly scalloped. The fruit stalk is round and fleshy when mature and the skin is hard. Jarrahdale is probably the best known pumpkin from this species. The Cucurbita moschata has angular stems with deeply lobed leaves that usually have white blotches at the vein intersections. The fruit stalk is also angular and usually flares out on all sides where it joins the fruit. Most are hard-skinned.
Pumpkins are a vigorous, prostrate, annual vine with an extensive root system. They are able to put down peg roots to support the plant, and their tendrils twine around other plants to prevent them from being blown around. Pumpkins have separate male and female flowers on the same plant.
The origin of the name comes from the Greek word pepon, which means melon. The French changed this into the word pompon. The English took pompon and changed it into pumpion. And finally, the American colonists took pumpion and changed this into the world recognised word of pumpkin.
Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America by the Native American Indians. There is evidence that shows related plant seeds which have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C.
Native Americans used pumpkins in a variety of ways and it became a staple in their diet, many centuries before the pilgrims landed to their shores. The Indians also pounded strips of pumpkin into a flat piece of flesh which was then dried and used to weave into mats for trading. Soon after the white settlers arrived it didn’t take them long to incorporate pumpkins into their own staple diets. It was used not only as a side dish and dessert, but also as decorations, in soups and even beer. Becoming quite popular, seeds were sent back to Europe. They are now grown all over the world, except for Antarctica being the sole exception.
The modest pumpkin has been part of the American Thanksgiving feast since 1623, when it was first served by native Indians to the new arrival of Pilgrims. Nowadays, pumpkins are used in a variety of ways; that being a food source, during Halloween and also as a decoration. The flesh of the pumpkin is used to make delicious soups, pies and breads, and it is cooked in a variety of ways.
19th Century New Englanders had thought that the pumpkin could cure such things as snake bites, freckles, facial wrinkles, diarrhoea in cats and dogs, constipation in cats and dogs and urinary troubles in men.
As you can see, pumpkins are quite versatile, have been around for many years and used in a variety of ways. The options are limitless.