By Jade Greene
When you think about fall – what do you imagine? Apple cider? Falling leaves? How about pumpkins? This time of year is the pumpkins time to shine! I sat down on my front step to have a chat with my pumpkin.
Q: Hello! So glad you can meet with us. We love seeing all the pumpkins and gourds this time of year! Wait a minute, what is a pumpkin? Are you the same as a gourd or a squash?
A: Thank you for having me! I am so grateful to clear this up right off the bat. I am a field pumpkin, the common pumpkin, and I am a winter squash. Squashes are grown to be eaten – varieties include but are not limited to butternut, pattypan, acorn and spaghetti. Gourds are grown just for decoration purposes, they aren’t tasty but very closely related to squashes. My family even includes summer squash (like zucchini) and cucumbers which are grown in the summer and you can eat their skins. Winter squashes are ripe in the fall and have a hard skin that keeps us fresh all winter long!
Q: Woah wait… so YOU, the adorable, orange pumpkin sitting on my front step are edible?
A: Yes indeed! Every part of a pumpkin is edible! You can roast my seeds, eat my pulp, roast my shell. Even my flowers and leaves! It irks me that so many people do not eat me… I am delicious!
Chef Kelly: Hi there! Just wanted to pop in and share my recipe for pumpkin puree and pumpkin muffins. Carry on!
Q: Thanks, Kelly! I may never buy pumpkin puree again!
A: Ha! Glad to hear! Did you know that many store bought pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie cans are actually a mix of different winter squashes? They are not necessarily exclusively pumpkin! All my winter squash cousins are absolutely delicious.
Honestly, this is an issue at our family gatherings. Only a few winter squashes get all the attention this time of year but all squashes are wonderful! There are many more varieties than most people realize. You all know about butternut and acorn but there are actually more than 115 varieties of squash! Most can be swapped into any winter squash recipe. Try as many of us as you can! That’s why I love your local farmers here in Bucks County. They grow so many different kinds, it is delightful!
Q: Amazing! All this variety reminds me of corn, who also has much more diversity than people realize. Corn mentioned you as one of the three sisters?
A: Oh corn, they are so great, we love growing together. Yes! I am one of the Three Sisters, which is an ingenious farming method developed by some of the Native Americans. They plant corn, beans, and squashes together and we thrive and provide a balanced meal for our humans. Corn acts as trellis for the beans, the beans improve the soil health (nitrogen fixation), and my big leaves keep weeds down and keep the soil cool in the summer sun.
Q: I love that! So are you indigenous to the Americas?
A: I am! My ancestor plant was in the Americas long before humans arrived on the continent! It is believed that squashes were one of the first crops domesticated by the indigenous people (before corn and beans) – so I am the oldest of the three sisters. Interestingly, I was domesticated SIX different times by different groups of indigenous peoples.
But I wasn’t only in the Americas – I am believed to be among the first domesticated crops in Africa and Thailand-area as well. It is a complicated history. And of course once the Europeans got a hold of me, I have become very popular all over the globe! I keep changing as time goes by. For example,
Green Striped Maycock is a rare squash preserved by the Nanticokes of Delaware and Maryland represents one of the purest strains of Lenape/Eastern Woodland squash (1)
Nanticoke Squash is a relatively newer varieties, it originated in Argentina and most likely reached North America in the 1500s. This squash itsself has an incredible diversity of colors, shapes, and textures (2)!
On the other hand, butternut squash is a new variety that was first created in the 1940s when a farmer crossed a pumpkin with gooseneck squash varieties.
It is easy to cross me and change me – also like corn!
Q: Where did you get your name?
A: The word “squash” comes from the Narragansett word “askutasquash.” Your local Lenni Lenape calls squash “kèskùnthàk.” But the word “pumpkin” comes from Europeans, who used the Greek word “peopon” which eventually was changed to “pumpkin.”
Q: Speaking of Europeans, what is the deal with carving jack-o-lanterns?
A: This practice actually goes back to another indigenous culture – the Celtic people of Ireland! They carved faces in turnips and placed a candle inside to ward off evil spirits. Their Irish immigrant descendants brought the practice to America and they used pumpkins instead of turnips!
Today, this practice is such a fun tradition. I love seeing all the jack-o-lanterns and gourds, and even corn as decoration! I just wish it wasn’t so wasteful.
Q: How is it wasteful?
A: Let me explain, every year about 1.3 BILLION pounds of pumpkins enter landfills across the United States. We can’t break down into compost in a landfill but we do release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. To grow us, tons of resources are consumed like water, land, labor, energy, chemicals (many farms use fertilizer or pesticides to grow me), which are in turn wasted too. That is the case for all wasted food.
Q: What can we do instead?
A: There are many options instead of chucking me:
– First, before I get moldy, just eat me!
– Another great option is to find a local farm that raises animals – chickens, pigs, goats, even horses love to eat me! You can toss me in the woods for the wildlife.
– You can add me to the bottom of your raised beds.
– And of course, please add me to your compost pile! My seeds may even grow and give you more pumpkins next year!
Q: These are some fabulous ideas! Thank you so much for chatting with us! Can’t wait to eat you!
A: Ha! Wonderful! This was a TREAT. Thank you!
Some of the pumpkins on my front step
Chef Kelly’s pumpkin puree recipe (drool)
Just a taste of the diversity of squash
Drawing of maize, climbing beans, and winter squash planted together, the Three Sisters. Image from Wikipedia
A carved turnip, a Celtic tradition to ward off evil spirits
Local chickens enjoying some pumpkins
Pumpkins make a great addition to any compost pile if no one eats them first!