A Pumpkin by any other name

this year’s porch booty, where the pumpkins, squash & gourds gather every fall!

Did you know pumpkins are squash? The word pumpkin does not actually describe a botanical distinction, it is a common name used for some squash. Generally, in the United States and a few other other countries, it is the name for round orange hybrids of the Cucurbita pepo squash species, the ones used for jack-o’lanterns. In Australia and New Zealand all winter squash varieties are called pumpkins. Commercially, most pumpkin pies and canned pumpkin pie fillings are made from other types of winter squash.

Mike’s jack-o’-lantern, face design by our friend Ke

Even more misleading, the tradition from Ireland of carving lanterns from vegetables, calling them jack-o’-lanterns, did not start with pumpkins, which were not grown in Ireland long ago, but were carved from turnips, or occasionally potatoes or beets. In America folks found the pumpkin, introduced to them by Native Americans, made bigger, brighter jack-o’-lanterns. And were a lot easier to carve than a turnip!

Since the word pumpkin comes from the Greek word pepon, meaning big melon, clearly the term pumpkin has a loose application and those round, orange winter squash have an identity crisis, which may be why so many jack-o’-lantrens look like they are in shock! 🎃

cheese pumpkin – which is a squash!

A very popular pie squash is called a cheese pumpkin, which is a type of moschata squash. We recently bought one, and though the folks at the farm where we bought it didn’t know the specific variety, it is definitely a type of cheese pumpkin, or squash. The name might come from the shape, similar to a cheese round, or from the “pumpkin cheese” early settlers in the US made with any pumpkin or squash that didn’t store well. If a squash showed signs of going bad they’d cook it down to what we would now call pumpkin butter as a way of preserving it.

Pumpkins/squash, have been around a long time, thought to have originate in ancient Central American. They’ve not only been around over 7,000 years, they’ve traveled around the globe. New varieties have come back to the Americas via the West Indies, England, France and other countries. There are hundreds of varieties, many developed in the United States. Varieties of the same species of squash easily cross-pollinate so when growing more than one type it is a good idea to grow varieties from different species.

We have pumpkin addiction issues in our house, and it’s not just me, I know when to stop, but Mike always thinks we should get more. He also campaigns for more gourds. I tell him we can at least eat the pumpkins, so I vote for more pumpkins. I adore gourds. The history of gourds, which are relatives to pumpkins and cucumbers, is older and more complex than that of the pumpkins/squash ancestry.  Some believe, from archival evidence, gourds may be the oldest cultivated plant, thought to have been introduced to the Americas from Asia 10,000 years ago.

Gourds have been used as food, vessels and utensils , musical instruments and in the creative arts for thousands of years. Early settlers found some Native American tribes used them to make bird houses to attract birds to control insect pests. There is something innately attractive about gourds, often very colorful and naturally decorated with designs and textures.  And the small ones are quite cute! The year we had three volunteer plants appear in our back yard, their long vines growing off into the woods, I felt rich with abundance as the harvest filled two baskets. Given their multiple uses and long association with people, it seems every household would do well to have a basket full!

Enjoy whatever you want to call your favorite colorful fall vegetable! But be warned, if you Google it you will find conflicting information on these ancient vegetables.

For example, Hubbard Squash, which for the obvious reason of it’s name, I’ve known about all my life, has a debatable lineage. What we called Hubbard squash growing up was a larger, darker green, squash than what most farmers grow, and markets sell, here in Washington, which is a small Hubbard variety called Blue Hubbard, a cross between Hubbard and another type. The origin of Hubbard squash is thought to be the James Gregory Seed Company. Mr Gregory brought it to the seed market from seeds given to him by his neighbor, Elizabeth Hubbard. But not all agree on where Gregory claims Mrs Hubbard got her seeds. Regardless of its origins, it is a flavorful, very popular squash served at many Thanksgiving feasts, and what a great name!

Happy Halloween!🎃

Past Halloween posts:

The Driver

Festivals and Fruit Crumble

What Scares You?


Some of the Pumpkin and Squash articles I read to compile this pumpkin biography.


The Driver


Helping me through the memory ‘haunts’ of last October, a ‘new’ creative passion, needle felting. Lots of tiny pumpkins showing up!

With Halloween a few weeks away, my thoughts cannot help but think of last year’s holiday, strange as it was.

The day before, October 30, I was at Swedish Hospital. It was a dark rainy day, one of those days that never looks like day. Cancer had already been found in a lymph node a few weeks earlier, now medical personnel were looking for where it came from. Multiple breast images that day resulted in two painful biopsies. We lingered in Seattle to be sure all the bleeding and swelling would subside. Sitting in the car in the rain, the ice packs in my bra thawing, I called the hospice nurse who had seen mom earlier that day. She told me mom was stable and assured me she was not likely to die soon, though maybe in the next few days. Having seen her myself the day before, I wasn’t so sure, but we were planning to see her on our way home and I could do my own assessment.

After waiting an hour in a ferry line, having just missed the one we’d hoped to be on, we were driving off the ferry when the call came. Mom had died, the person calling was surprised I hadn’t been called. She died around 8:30. It was now after 9:00.

Stunned from the events of the day and the call, on autopilot I called the number on the little orange card I always carried with me. Mom had given it to me years ago. Since her mid-70s she had been a volunteer participant in an Alzheimer’s research study through Group Health and the University of Washington. Her brain was to be autopsied upon her death, whether she had Alzheimer’s or not. As it was, she had been diagnosed about 6 years earlier.

A woman answered the phone. She said it would take the ‘driver’ (who, it turned out, was her husband) an hour, maybe more, to get to where mom was. Okay. We would be there, we would wait.

After more than an hour (it was now past 11:00) no one had come. The staff in the care home were changing shifts and gently as possible asked me what was going to happen when. Sitting in the dark stillness of mom’s room, where she lay even more still, I called again.


one of my unfinished needle felted ‘heads’, though a little older looking, might be my version of ‘the driver’!

Finally, around 11:30, a young man walked in. In a black style-less suit, thin fabric, narrow lapels, with a white shirt and a thin black tie, he had no facial expression, in fact his face was very pale…no kidding, he was white as a ghost.

In a low, whispery monotone, he asked me to sign some papers. He expressed no words of condolence, there was nothing ‘warm’, or kind, about him, he barely spoke at all, he was all about the task at hand. With the most flat affect I’ve ever heard, he answered a few questions with short replies. I asked them mostly just to have conversation, but there wasn’t going to be any conversation with him. I made a comment based on a previous experience about a body bag, he said he does not use a body bag, he uses a shroud, and implied body bags were uncouth. Oh-kay.

We decided to leave, it was getting very late. As we went out the door of the care home parked in front was a Toyota van just like ours, only black. I had never seen a black Sienna, have never seen one since. I’ve looked. There was no sign on the vehicle, I thought there’d be some business name, though not sure what that would be: “Body Transport Services, call 567-4321” ? He had no one else with him, though he was a skinny, slight built person. We wondered, how was he going to do this? What if mom had weighted 150 pounds? (at 93, she was in fact tiny and light, having not eaten for a week).

The bigger question: was this guy of this world and was she really going to get to the UW morgue?

The next morning, Halloween morning, after only a few hours sleep, I received two calls. The first, very early, from a cheery doctor at the morgue who had performed the autopsy. He was done, where did I want Ruth sent? (at least I knew she had arrived.) He was chatty, upbeat, as polar-opposite from ‘the driver’ as two people could be. (that was a little strange too, she had not been dead 12 hours and this guy was talking to  me about her brain dissection. But at least he was friendly.)

The next call was the doctor at Swedish telling me they had found two types of cancer in my breast. Happy Halloween eh?

Mom's own funny Halloween face, 2010. She is much livelier here than the Halloween character who attended to her at the time of her dying!

Mom’s own bright eyed Halloween expression, 2010, is much livelier than the Halloween character who attended to her at the time of her  death!


The person at the ACT study who I knew, and who knew mom well, was out of the country when mom died. Not knowing this, I had called her cell phone that night, which she had told me to do if I needed any help or had any questions, day or night. She called me the day she returned, on my birthday, two weeks later. She told me the drivers were contracted, she did not know this guy and had never heard his name before nor a report like mine. She was a little ‘spooked’ too!

That strange night, exhausted, stressed, anticipating all that lay ahead, I called my brother as we drove home and told him the story of the driver. As we laughed about it, my brother said “he watched too many undertaker movies.” We decided he was in the right line of work. Either he got that way hanging around with dead bodies, or perhaps he had some form of autism which made communicating challenging and this was a job he could do as it did not involve much interaction with, well, living people.

out sweeping the leaves with her broom is a little purple witch with her purple cat

out sweeping the leaves with her broom is a little purple witch with her purple cat

What scares you?

Scary to some, not to others, the woods offers ‘monster’ trees with branches ready to grab the imagination, screeches to set one’s hair on end, and blackened stumps posing as bears!

Halloween has yet to arrive, but thanks to face book I’ve already seen a small humanoid butterfly vampire, a ballerina vampire, and an icing-covered sweet vampire.

No doubt due to the season, I’ve been thinking about why people are drawn to scary experiences, movies, things, etc. and like to dress-up in scary costumes.  I personally am NOT drawn to being scared, I have enough trouble sleeping at night, thank you very much.  There are enough realities of my own life and in the world at large which I find disturbing without seeking out anxiety producing stimulus. But that’s just me.  I tend to dress as a clown on Halloween, though I have been seen as a not-so-scary witch.

Of course what is deemed scary by one person another might find humorous, exhilarating, or just plain ordinary.  Early in my life-in-the-woods a visiting friend, walking to the barn with me as I went to milk Daisy the cow, commented, “How can you stand to live here alone and be scared all the time?”  The implication was that being out in Nature, at night, in the dark, was a scary experience, especially alone. I loved my life in the woods and did not think about being scared; if the thought came to me I put it out of my mind.  Back then the only time I would be scared  in Nature was if I was in a campground with some weird person nearby.  Fear to me was usually related to spooky behaving people, a product of a more urban lifestyle.  The focus of the nightly news certainly reinforced my way of thinking.  Since then I have, at times, had some anxieties about life here in the woods, but mostly due to incidents involving people, (though the cougar encounter reminded me Nature also has scary, unpredictable characters).

According to my trusty Apple dictionary, the origin of the word ‘scare’ is the Old Norse word skirra meaning ‘frighten’. The flight-or-fight instinctual response to something that frightens us, found in humans and other life forms, is a hard-wired survival response to something we deem threatening.  Its purpose is to stimulate adrenalin and create the conditions for quick, decisive action in life-threatening situations, enabling us to protect ourselves or others.  It is supposed to diminish as the threat passes.  The common explanation for modern-day stress is our bodies and brains activating this response to perceived threats that don’t necessarily go away, (as the attacking lion might) or that has any immediate out come or resolution, (as killing or being killed by the lion might).  Thus, we remain in a constant state of flight-or-fight, aka stress.  The really frightening thing is what this does to our bodies, our minds, relationships, and every aspect of our lives.  Real life scares to people today are often unseen, unidentified, and not easily resolved.

IMG_1449The 1979 windstorm here in Washington brought down the Hood Canal Bridge and toppled trees everywhere, including across my porch and on my chicken-coop.  It brought a healthy dose of flight-or-fight response that came and went, allowing me to take quick, decisive actions, helping myself and friends.  (I have deep empathy for those on the east coast and their experiences the past few days). To those who lose loved ones, or homes, in natural disasters, it may not seem so, but Nature does play fair…the threat goes away, we can breath again, the adrenaline subsides along with the wind and the water, or the retreating lion.

Perhaps that scary movie or book gives folks the satisfaction of experiencing fear with resolution, unlike the often unnamed, unresolved fears of the modern world.  And if the outcome is not so favorable to the hero, it’s his or her life, not ours!  A sort of ‘have your cake and eat it too’ experience of fear, stress, and release, then close the book, the movie is over. Dare devil sports enthusiasts experience first hand fear and resolution.

pottery jack o’lanterns I made at Daily Bird Pottery workshop

While avoiding the gory haunted houses and the re-runs of horror movies, I’ll enjoy the jack o’lanterns and lighter side of Halloween, but keep an eye out for the vampire butterflies and ballerinas, though they can usually be won over and are prone to giggles… perhaps this is true of all our scary demons! Children who want to be a scary vampire, but temper it with a butterfly or dancing alter-ego, might just be attempting to balance the scary, dark side of life with the life-affirming light side.  I wish them and you a Happy Halloween!

REALLY scary is the transformation of my husband into a vampire, at least in this iPad enhanced photo!