Pumpkin: jack-o’-lantern of all trades

This fall millions of Americans will make an annual pilgrimage to a retail outlet to purchase a vegetable that, unfortunately, they are very unlikely to eat, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.

While many people throughout the world use pumpkin as a staple in their diet, in the United States this colorful member of the gourd plant family is used primarily for decoration.pumpkin

Pumpkins have been cultivated since about 3500 B.C., rivaling maize (corn) as one of the oldest known crops in the Western Hemisphere. Archaeological evidence suggests that pumpkins and winter squash are native to the Americas, from the southwestern part of what is now the United States through Mexico and Central America and south into Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, said Trinklein.

Presumably, American colonists relied heavily on pumpkin as a food source, as evidenced by this poem from about 1630:

For pottage and puddings and custard and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies:
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon.

One way colonists are thought to have prepared pumpkins was to slice off the tops, remove the seeds and refill the inside with a mixture of milk, spices and honey. The resultant concoction was baked in hot ashes and is said to be the origin of our modern pumpkin pie.

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