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.
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! 🎃
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!
Past Halloween posts:
Some of the Pumpkin and Squash articles I read to compile this pumpkin biography.