With Halloween and its copious candy long gone, I bet many of you still have a pumpkin or two lying about.
I’m not really referring to the one you carved, but the one still intact that was used for decoration. That left-over fruit still has a lot of uses and a lot of history for Thanksgiving, less than two weeks away.
The pumpkin is native to North America, used extensively by Native Americans, and is believed to be a part of the first thanksgiving where the 50 surviving pilgrims dined with close to 90 Indians from the Wampanoag tribe.
Far from the crusted pumpkin pie we love today, the first pumpkin was most likely prepared by filling a hollowed-out pumpkin with milk, honey and spices, then baked in hot ashes near an open fire.
Historians believe that the pilgrims were not very impressed by the Indians’ large squash until they had to survive their first harsh winter when about half of the settlers died.
I couldn’t determine exactly when the first pumpkin was brought back to the European continent, but we do know the many names it has had as it made its way around Europe.
Pumpkins get their name from the Greek word pepon, which translates to “large melon”. The French then adapted it to pompon. First introduced to Tudor England by the French, the flesh of the pompon was quickly accepted as a pie filler The British then evolved it to pumpion, and when recipes of this large fruit made it back to the United States, we started calling it the modern name, pumpkin.
Only 30 years after the pilgrims ate pumpkin at their new settlement, a pompon recipe was listed in a now very famous French cookbook in 1651. Below is the first known pumpkin pie recipe, from the acclaimed French cookbook by the famous chef, Francois Pierre la Varenne.
Tourte of pumpkin – Boile it with good milk, pass it through a straining pan very thick, and mix it with sugar, butter, a little salt and if you will, a few stamped almonds; let all be very thin. Put it in your sheet of paste; bake it. After it is baked, besprinkle it with sugar and serve.
Almost 150 years later in the newly formed United States in 1796, the very first, truly American cookbook had “Pompkin Pudding” listed among its many recipes. American Cookery, by an American orphan by Amelia Simmons had two similar pumpkin recipes that were baked in a crust very similar to modern pumpkin pies.
Not be forgotten are the seeds. Roasted pumpkin seeds are a popular snack for some. One of my co-workers is mildly obsessed with the roasting of the seeds. It is a process that he describes as taking a couple of hours with taste testing every 10 minutes. He’ll keep them in the oven and at the peak of “roasted-ness”, just prior to burning, he will pull them from the oven.
If you want to grow pumpkins, you’d need lots of space in your garden. Like other melons, they’ll take anywhere from 90 to 120 days from seed to harvest. We can grow them as soon as all chances of frost have passed, but we typically wait until July to plant them so that we can harvest fresh pumpkins for the fall festivities.
Illinois is responsible for 95% of our national pumpkin production. In Texas, we farm about 5,000 to 8,000 acres of pumpkins. Floydada, a small-town northwest of Lubbock, calls itself the Pumpkin Capital of Texas and has a festival to that claim each October.
This season, we’ll see pumpkin flavored cake, ice cream, waffles, pancakes, coffee, and even pumpkin beer. If you decide to give that original French recipe a try, I can shake free from work most any afternoon to help you taste test it!
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.