Some Pumpkin Spice

by Julie Barns

Autumn is really, really here. That means cooler temperatures, spectacular mums, frosty nights, colorful foliage and by gourd, ripe, orange pumpkins. Between Halloween and Thanksgiving they are indispensable for autumn decorating and festivities with so many varieties to choose from: Colors choices besides orange, such as yellow, white, green, and even blue, round or oblong shapes, and sizes ranging from miniatures to mammoth size record breakers. I share some pumpkin spice that I hope will suffice.

The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word "pepon" meaning large melon." This member of the Cucurbita family, that includes squash, melons, gourds and cucumbers, is considered a fruit. Low in calories and fat, as well as high in fiber, pumpkin has great versatility as a food rich in Vitamins A and B, potassium, iron, and protein. The flowers are edible, the seeds can be roasted to make a nutritious and healthful snack, and the flesh pureed to make soups, pies, and breads. Pumpkin was once recommended medicinally to remove freckles or cure snake bites. Consuming pumpkin seeds is now confirmed to reduce prostate disorders in men.

A pumpkin carved into a jack-o-lantern is a familiar icon of Halloween which originated from the ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain (pronounced "sow-ain") that expressed "summer's end" while celebrating the harvest. Actually, the first jack o' lanterns were carved from turnips, gourds, or beets that were then positioned on porches, or in windows to welcome deceased loved ones and to protect against evil spirits. When Irish settlers came to America, they found the native pumpkin a better choice for jack 'o lanterns, since it was larger and easier to carve. Today, pumpkin carving can go from cutting out simple jack o' lanterns to creating detailed pumpkin sculptures. A jack-o-lantern pumpkin should be large enough to design with a flat bottom, so that it does not roll.

In the United States today, 90 to 95% of the processed pumpkin we use is grown in Illinois and Morton, Illinois is self-proclaimed to be the "Pumpkin Capital of the World," home to the Libby Corporations pumpkin industry. For our country's early settlers, hollowing out a pumpkin shell, filling it with milk, honey, and spices, then baking it in the hot ashes of a dying fire was their form of pumpkin pie. But, today, the pumpkin pie that many are familiar with originated from the Libby Company in 1929. After years of development, Libby developed its own strain of eating pumpkins, planting more than five thousand acres of them every year. These pumpkins differ from jack o' lantern type pumpkins being smaller and thinner walled with sweet firm flesh. Carving pumpkins are larger with hard shells that are bland when cooked.

Let the competition begin! Competitive pumpkin growing is a big production with monetary prizes. Appearance does not matter to be a pumpkin champion, but weight does. In September and October, annual pumpkin weigh offs are staged at festivals around the world. From a certain mammoth type seed, weight records have quadrupled from a roughly 425 pound hefty weight in 35 years. Now, Gardeners rivalling for the world record transport their giants on large trailers that must be lifted by cranes to weigh on carefully calibrated scales. The current largest pumpkin champion, submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records, is a Belgium man with a whopping 2,624.6 pound specimen in 2016. In just this year, 2018, a New Hampshire man was bestowed the honor of the largest pumpkin ever grown across North America weighing 2,528 pounds by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth Organization. To grow a gargantuan specimen, it takes a seed from a colossal, removal of competing blossoms, plant food in in abundance, and warmth, even if it must be covered with a blanket at night. I guess whatever it takes to squash a world record.