The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word Pepõn which means large melon. The word gradually morphed by the French, English and then Americans into the word “pumpkin.” Pumpkins and squash are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas. These early pumpkins were not the traditional round orange upright Jack-O-Lantern fruit we think of today when you hear the word pumpkin. They were a crooked neck variety which stored well. Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans. This took place long before the emergence of maize (corn). After maize was introduced,
ancient farmers learned to grow squash with maize and beans using the “Three Sisters” tradition.
The Three Sisters are squash, corn and beans which grow and thrive together. Corn serves as the natural trellis for the beans to grow on. The beans roots set nitrogen in the soil to nourish the corn. The bean vines help to stabilize the corn stalks on windy days. The squash plants shelter the shallow roots of the corn and shade the ground to discourage weeds and preserve moisture. Truly a symbiotic relationship. I have read where it was a common practice to bury a small fish alongside the seeds at planting to nourish the “Three Sisters.”
The early Native American farmers were practicing an early form of sustainable agriculture. How cool is that?!? We can learn many lessons today from them.
These early Native Americans roasted pumpkin strips over campfires and used them as a food source, long before the arrival of European explorers. Pumpkins helped The Native Americans make it through long cold winters. They used the sweet flesh in numerous ways: roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried. They ate pumpkin seeds and also used them as a medicine. The blossoms were added to stews. Dried pumpkin could be stored and ground into flour.
They dried the shells and used them as bowls and containers to store grain, beans and seeds. I have read where they pounded and dried the pumpkin flesh into strips, and wove the strips into mats which they used for trading purposes.
It is said that Columbus carried pumpkin seeds back with him to Europe. There they were used to feed pigs, but not as a human food source. Indians introduced pumpkins and squashes to the Pilgrims. Pumpkins were an important food source for the pilgrims, as they stored well, which meant they would have a nutritious food source during the winter months. It is documented that pumpkins were served at the second Thanksgiving celebration. Pumpkins say fall
For pottage and puddings and custards 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.”
The Pilgrims were also known to make pumpkin beer. They fermented a combination of persimmons, hops, maple sugar and pumpkin to make this early colonial brew.
In early colonies, pumpkin shells were used as a template for haircuts to ensure a round and uniform finished cut. As a result of this practice, New Englanders were sometimes nicknamed “pumpkinheads”.
There are many theories as to the origins of Jack-o-lanterns and Halloween. Early Jack-o-lanterns were carved from turnips and potatoes by the Irish and Scottish and carried in Celtic celebrations. The English used beets. Lumps of coal were lit on fire and placed inside the hollow root vegetables. When European settlers arrived in America, they found that our American pumpkin varieties were well suited to being carved as a “Jack’s” lanterns.
In America a traditional Jack-o-lantern refers to a variety of pumpkin grown for its suitability for carving. They are fairly large in size, have upright strong walls, and most importantly a large hollow cavity.
In the late 1800s there was a movement to turn Halloween into a celebration emphasizing community and neighborhood activities and parties. This is the Halloween we know and celebrate today. Today Jack-o-lanterns are a symbol of harvest celebrations.
1 large pumpkin (5-1/2 to 6 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1-1/2 pounds ground beef
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 small green pepper, chopped
1-1/2 cups cooked rice
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1/2 cup finely chopped fully cooked ham
2 eggs, beaten
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
Wash pumpkin; cut a 6-in. circle around top stem. Remove top and set aside; discard seeds and loose fibers from inside. Place pumpkin in a large Dutch oven. Fill with boiling water to a depth of 6 in.; add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is almost tender but holds its shape. Carefully remove and drain well; pat dry.
In a large skillet, cook the beef, onion and green pepper over medium heat until meat is no longer pink and vegetables are tender; drain well. Cool slightly; place in a large bowl. Add rice, tomato sauce, ham, eggs, garlic, oregano, pepper, vinegar and remaining salt.
Place pumpkin in a shallow sturdy baking pan. Firmly pack beef mixture into pumpkin; replace top. Leaving pan uncovered, bake at 350° for 1 hour. Let stand for 10 minutes. Remove the top; if desired, use paper towel to remove excess moisture from top of meat. Slice pumpkin into wedges. Yield: 6-8 servings.
HEARTY PUMPKIN-STEW RECIPE
This special stew is the meal our two kids look forward to each fall because we only get to enjoy it when the fresh pumpkins come out of the garden. The stew is cooked and served right in the pumpkin shell. A true taste of autumn, it also makes a pretty presentation at a potluck.
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 cup water
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 medium carrots, sliced
1 large green pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons beef bouillon granules
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 pumpkin (10 to 12 pounds)
In a Dutch oven, brown meat in 2 tablespoons oil. Add water, potatoes, carrots, green pepper, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Stir in bouillon and tomatoes. Wash pumpkin; cut to 6 to 8 in. circle around top stem. Remove top and set aside; discard seeds and loosen fibers from inside.
Place pumpkin in a shallow sturdy baking pan. Spoon stew into pumpkin and replace top. Brush outside of pumpkin with remaining oil. Bake at 325° for 2 hours or just until the pumpkin is tender (do not overbake). Serve stew from pumpkin, scooping out a little pumpkin with each serving. Yield: 8-10 servings.
CHEESE & PUMPKIN-FILLED MANICOTTI RECIPE
Our family adores autumn and anything to do with pumpkins! This warm, comforting recipe is so easy to put together on a cool fall weeknight. When I have time, I make homemade ravioli and tortellini using this same filling. It also works well in stuffed shells.
1 package (8 ounces) manicotti shells
1 container (15 ounces) ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 jar (24 ounces) garlic spaghetti sauce, divided
Preheat oven to 350°. Cook manicotti shells according to package directions for al dente. Drain.
In a large bowl, mix ricotta cheese, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, pumpkin, Parmesan cheese, egg yolks and nutmeg. Spoon into manicotti.
Spread 1 cup spaghetti sauce into a greased 13×9-in. baking dish. Top with stuffed manicotti. Pour remaining spaghetti sauce over top; sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese. Bake, covered, 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted. Yield: 7 servings.