Pumpkins came out of tropical America, where seeds of related plants date back to 7000BC Mexico.
In North America, it wasn’t until colonists landed and watched Native American Indians growing and harvesting pumpkins, that they, too, began to farm this edible fruit.
Pumpkins are members of the gourd family and are closely related to muskmelons, squash, and watermelon. Pumpkins range in size from 9-500 pounds and come in a variety of colors including white, pink, yellow, red, and orange. Skins of the pumpkin are smooth and ribbed. The fruit’s stem is hard, angled, and wood-like.
Pumpkins are sodium, fat, and cholesterol-free. Pumpkins are also a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF PUMPKIN
Pumpkins which are used for decorative purposes during Halloween are field pumpkins. Though they’re easy to carve, field pumpkins are too watery to bake with and not sweet enough to eat. There are many other varieties of pumpkin, however, which are raised as a food source around the world. The largest of these is the Atlanta Giant.
PLANTING AND GROWTH
Pumpkin seeds are planted in late spring, in areas that get at least 5 hours of direct sunlight each day. In colder climates, seeds are often started indoors and moved to a garden or field as the weather warms. In order for a pumpkin to mature, it needs 100-140 frost-free growing days.
Seeds are most often planted in the middle of hills and mounds which are surrounded by a moat. The moat aids in keeping the water-hungry pumpkin fed continuously. Because pumpkins grow very long vines, it’s necessary to place seeds at a great distance from each other.
It is not uncommon for pumpkins to grow vines which measure more than 30 feet long. Sets of twos are usually planted on anyone hillside. Growers recommend placing sets at least 10 feet apart.
During the early stages of growth, pumpkin seeds are watered often, which allows for their root hairs to form and anchor themselves in the soil. After 1-2 weeks, sprouts begin to break through the earth and unfold. Within the following 2 weeks, small growths are noticed, and farmers must choose which plants to pull. Because pumpkins require ample space for proper growth, the strongest and largest of the plants are kept and the rest are discarded.
Pumpkins need rich soil for adequate growth to occur. Compost and aged manure are often used to nurse the plants along. Considered a “food hungry” plant, pumpkins are sometimes fed fish emulsion, a thick concentration of fish by-products rich in minerals. Pumpkins also require large amounts of water. Because they are made up of as much as 90-percent water, it’s essential that farmers water this plant on a regular basis.
Within the first month of life, two flowers appear on each vine. One is male and one, female. Bees play matchmaker with the flowers, doing all the work of pollinating during early growth. Those plants which are pollinated grow strong, while those that aren’t, usually shrivel and die within the first two months of growth.
As the pumpkin fruit reaches grapefruit size, vines are pruned to help strengthen the plant, allowing it to thrive. Some gardeners also prune the fruit at this time, selecting which pumpkins look the healthiest, and removing the others from the vine.
As the seasons begin to change in late August, and temperatures dip to frost level. pumpkins begin to change color and are ready for harvest. Pumpkins are at their peak when they are deep yellow or bright red. Once picked, pumpkins are set aside to cure in the sun for up to 10 days.
Pumpkins which are grown as a food source in the U.S. and Canada, are stored in a dry, cool area before being sold to pumpkin manufacturers. Pumpkins are graded by size, variety, and weight. Most U.S. pumpkins bought by manufacturers are puree’d, treated, and canned for use as a pie filling. Field pumpkins are often sold as Jack O’ Lanterns in the fall and fed to livestock. In Europe, pumpkins are grown only as a vegetable.
HOW TO BUY A FRESH PUMPKIN
When buying a pumpkin to cook with, look for smaller pumpkins with a hard, thick shell. The pumpkin should feel heavy for its size. Large, oversized pumpkins have very little flavor and are too watery to cook or bake.
When buying a pumpkin for decorative purposes, pumpkins should be firm and have a large, healthy stem. Solid pumpkins will be heavy and dull sounding, when tapped.
If you plan on storing pumpkins until you’re ready to use them, keep them in a dark area that provides adequate ventilation. Pumpkins can be stored for several months at a time. Cut pieces of pumpkins wrapped in plastic wrap can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS
- Rinse fresh seeds off by placing them in a strainer and allowing the water to clean pumpkin strings off of seeds.
- Oil a baking sheet with cooking oil and spread seeds out so that are not overlapping.
- Bake seeds at 375-degrees, stirring occasionally.
- Seeds are done when they have turned golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt or other desired flavorings.