Pumpkin: Fall Harvest

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Pumpkins are a fruit and a member of the gourd family which also includes: honeydew melons, zucchini, watermelons, and cantaloupes. Pumpkins are indigenous to the western hemisphere and have been cultivated in North America for over 5,000 years. The word Pumpkin originated from the English, but derived from the Greek word Pepon.

It has been documented Native Americans had vast skills and knowledge in growing and cultivating pumpkins and squash. Some Indian tribes planted corn and beans with Pumpkin and Squash. The corn stalks would support the bean vines and the large pumpkin leaves shaded the shallow roots of the corn. This held moisture in the soil, helped prevent weeds and (the root of the beans) provided nitrogen into the soil. The Native Americans called this symbiotic relationship the three sisters.

Archaeological digs discovered Ancient Native Americans in North and South America only ate the seeds, as a result the pumpkin meat being too bitter to consume. Once the pumpkins were being planted and cultivated, they became a vital part of their culture. Native Americans not only ate the pumpkin meat and seeds, but cut strips of pumpkin and made dried pumpkin (what we would call “jerky” today). Whole pumpkins would be tossed into the fire to roast for a smoky, delicious meal. Pumpkins, as well as squash, had many other uses. Drying the outer skin after removing the flesh would turn pumpkins into water vessels, such as bowls, ladles, and storage pots. This process continues today.

In the colonial era, the settlers got their seeds from the Indians. The settlers learned the pumpkin was as a valuable crop, even more so during the winter months. Pumpkins were used in stews, soups, pies, jams, and beer! Explorers such as Columbus and Cartier would take pumpkins and other unfamiliar plants and food items back to Europe. The Europeans and English were not initially fond of the pumpkin and classified it as “poor man’s fare”. Pumpkins were used as animal feed.

The influence of the pumpkin in American history today has varied. From being grown and cultivated for a primary food source, during the first half of the 20th century, a deep decline occurred in the 1970’s. Pumpkins became more of a decoration and not a sought after food source.

The Howden Pumpkin became the original “Jack O Lantern”. This variety dominates the pumpkin grocery industry. They are orange in color, have a smooth texture, and an oval shape. This pumpkin has little flavor and some consider it to be “poor-tasting”. It is a five billion dollar industry during the fall, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas holiday seasons.

There are over 250 varieties of pumpkin and squash. Most all are edible. The nutritional values of pumpkin does a body good! They are loaded with Beta Carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body. This vitamin is essential for eye health, immune system, and aids the cardiovascular system.

Pumpkin Nutrition Facts (1 cup cooked, boiled, drained, without salt)

  • Calories: 49
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Carbs: 12 grams
  • Dietary Fiber: 3 grams
  • Calcium: 37 mg
  • Iron: 1.4 mg
  • Magnesium: 22 mg
  • Potassium: 564 mg
  • Zinc: 1 mg
  • Selenium: .50 mg
  • Vitamin C: 12 mg
  • Niacin: 1 mg
  • Folate: 21 mcg
  • Vitamin A: 2650 IU
  • Vitamin E 3 mg

Let’s not forget those awesome pumpkin seeds. Highly nutritious and high in calories.

DRI/DV Pumpkin Seeds, Dried, Shelled ¼ cup (32.25 grams)

180 Calories & is Low glycemic rating.

  • Manganese: 73.5%
  • Phosphorous: 56.8%
  • Copper: 47.7%
  • Magnesium: 47.7%
  • Zinc: 22.9%
  • Protein: 19.5%
  • Iron: 15.7%

Pumpkin puree, which is canned pumpkin or your homemade, baked or boiled then pureed. It can be used in various ways to attain the valuable nutritional elements. Stir into soups, stews, or chili’s and there will be minimal flavor change upon adding the puree, but the benefits are bountiful. You can also use the puree in place of oil in baking of breads and muffins, as well as, adding the pumpkin puree to your oatmeal and yogurt.

Bon appetite’!

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