The Great Pumpkin

October 15, 2012

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New England state fairs made pumpkin history in late September.

Just one day after a New Hampshire pumpkin weighed in at 1,843.5 lbs. to set a world record at the Deerfield Fair, Rhode Island grower Ron Wallace’s submission to the Topsfield (Massachusetts) Fair smashed the record again with a pumpkin weighing 2,009 pounds.

Wallace’s was the first pumpkin to top a ton, a goal deemed impossible a few years ago.

A real American

The pumpkin (actually, a type of squash) is a true native American crop, believed to have originated in Mexico at least 10,000 years ago. Along with maize (corn) and beans, which were domesticated much later, it joins the legendary Three Sisters of early native American agriculture.

Indigenous Americans valued the pumpkin for its long storage life and the portability of its fruits and high-protein seeds. Some native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats, which they traded as food commodities. They also used empty pumpkin shells as storage containers.

Native Americans introduced the European Colonists to the many uses of pumpkin, which quickly became a common staple food, as suggested by this couplet from a Pilgrim verse written around 1633:

We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.


Kitchen versatility

If you like pumpkin pie, you’ll enjoy pumpkin butter on your morning toast and pumpkin smoothies, hot or cold, for breakfast (or even dessert). You can also eat the blossoms and the seeds. (The development of naked-seeded pumpkin varieties has made it easy to grow and munch your own seeds.) 


Preserving pumpkins 

If you have grown or come into a lot of extra pumpkins or hard-shelled winter squashes this fall, your best storage option is leaving them whole until you’re ready to use one. Set them so they don’t touch each other on wooden pallets or a few thicknesses of newspapers in a cool (50º-55º), dry location .

Cooked pumpkin also freezes well. You can bake, steam, or boil them; drain well, mash or leave as cubes, and freeze for later use.

Recent research shows that it isn’t safe to can mashed or pureed pumpkin or pumpkin butter, even in a pressure canner. If you insist on canning your pumpkins, can them as cubes, and follow instructions
 

Pumpkins for beauty, fitness, and fun

Okay, so you aren’t interested in breaking the big-pumpkin record, and maybe you don’t enjoy eating or drinking pumpkins in any form.

But why not get your pumpkin on with a pumpkin facial, or use one for a fat-burning workout

Or just find a pumpkin to play with!

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Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.

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