Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Are Pumpkins Vegetables or Fruits?
   The answer to that commonly asked question depends on who you ask.  Technically, they are a fruit.  This is because fruits are generally classified as having seeds.  Pumpkins have seeds; thus, it is a fruit.  So if you are ever on a game show trying to win a million dollars and you get asked whether it's a fruit or vegetable, go with fruit.  But for those people out there who always thought it was a vegetable rather than a fruit, don't worry, you aren't that wrong.  In culinary terms, it would be classified as a vegetable and not a fruit.  The word fruit is usually used to only describe food that is "sweet and fleshy".

Growing Them
    To grow them, you plant the seeds around the end of May to the mid part of June. 
The seeds are planted in groups call hills.  It takes three to four months for them to grow.  In the process of growing, they don't just grow in size but they also change from being either green or yellow to being orange.  They grow on vines which run along the ground.  Once they are orange and their skin is tough, they are ready to be picked.  This usually in October.  Pumpkins are said to have originated in Mexico or Central America.  But they can grow all over the world.  In fact, the only place you won't find them growing is in Antarctica.  They can also grow to be a few pounds or thousands of pounds.  Fun fact: Joe Jutras of Rhode Island grew a huge one that weighed 1689 pounds.  The facts about how someone get one to grow that big aren't always known because many growers keep how they did it a secret.


The Great Pumkin Trojan Horse

   The pumpkin has been around in the U.S. long before the pilgrims first landed on the shores of Cape Cod Bay.  Most scientists seem to think that the tasty squash (pumpkins are part of the squash family) was first cultivated in southern Mexico over a thousand years ago, and gradually the large vegetable spread north along with maize, squash and beans.  These newly developed crops greatly changed the way the Indians lived.  Native populations increased and cultures flourished as many parts of North America saw a change in Native life that went from hunter and gatherer towards farmer.
   Every yer the Thanksgiving holiday gives us a chance to have a big feast, reconnect with long lost relatives and watch football.  Most Americans have some inkling of the vast array of modern foods that originated in the Americas, and also of the importance of corn in the aboriginal diet, but the story is much more fascinating and complex that.

   Sometime between a thousand and two thousand years ago, the first agricultural seed plants of the western hemisphere were developed.  They were first culled from wild species and ten cultivated to improve the quality and quantity of the plant.  This is nothing new in the civilized world, it is just another part of the long story that began thousands of years earlier, when rice was first cultivated in southeast Asia.  Rice was the first seed crop, which meant that farmers could save the seeds from one years harvest, and plant them the next spring. this is a story that has been repeated around the world at different times and locations with different plants.
   Pumpkins are really neat because, not only is the pulp good to eat, but the seeds, sometimes called pepitas, are very tasty as well.  Technically speaking, pumpkins are a fruit, not a vegetable.  That is because they form from the female flower, which is pollinated by bees.  Instead of eating all the delicious seed, you can save some for the next years crop.  This is what defines a seed crop.  That means you can trade some of the precious seed stock to your neighbor for some arrowheads or even a subscription to a magazine, and then he can also grow pumpkins in his backyard.  More than likely both parties will be satisfied.  Before you know it, everybody in the country will be growing pumpkins  and reading some different magazines.  It is by this means that pumpkins spread northward to New England and were available to the pilgrims, when they first arrived, although since the pilgrims didn't watch t.v. I doubt they had many magazines to read either.  Today, if you want to grow some pumpkins in your garden, there is a large variety to choose from.  You can grow pumpkins for pies, for seeds, for carving at Halloween time.  Yeas believe it or not, there is a small cult of very ingenious people here in the U.S., who hold competitions, where they build homemade catapults that can hurl a pumpkin high and far into the air, in order to see whose pumpkin can travel the furthest.

   To win one of these contests the participants need an excellent understanding of old fashioned physics and kinetics in order to build the most effieient pumpkin launcher.  These same engineers have also delved into the fascinating world of plant genetics in a attempt to breed an aerodynamically and compact pumpkin that will travel a quarter of a mile through the air without breaking up into a thousand pieces.