PUMPKINS–THE ORANGE ICON OF FALL
Pumpkins were one of the earliest cultivated foods of the Americas. Over 9,000 years ago the indigenous peoples of North America were growing pumpkins in Oaxaca, Mexico. Pumpkins spread north to the eastern region of the United States by 2700 BCE, where they were grown by the Pueblo tribes of the southwestern United States, as well as the Apaches, Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai, Papago, Pima and Yuman tribes. The pumpkin’s thick orange flesh was a staple food source for thousands of years, and the seeds can be eaten too. The Tohono O’Odham people ground pumpkin seeds into flour and mixed it with corn meal to make flavorful breads.
Pumpkins are considered a squash and they have long been grown alongside corn and beans as the Three Sisters of agriculture. They are called the three sisters because they help each other grow! Corn provides tall stalks for the beans to climb so that they are not out-competed by sprawling squash vines. Beans provide nitrogen to fertilize the soil while also stabilizing the tall corn during heavy winds. The large leaves of squash plants shade the ground which helps retain soil moisture and prevent weeds.
HOW TO PICK THE PERFECT PUMPKIN
That depends on what you’re going to do with the pumpkin. If you’re going for the classic orange Jack-O-Lantern variety, look for a pumpkin with a consistent color that’s free from scratches. Flip it over and gently press the bottom. If it gives, the pumpkin isn’t fresh. And a green stem means the pumpkin was picked recently. When looking for pumpkins to use in cooking, look for “pie” or “sugar” pumpkins.
Take a virtual trip to the Wiard’s pumpkin patch with Liz, then find ideas for what to do with pumpkins this fall.
Pumpkin science is a perfect fall activity for curious kids–float them in water, weigh them, measure them, or cut ’em open and see what’s inside. And you can make pumpkin slime!
- Small baking pumpkin
- ¼ cup liquid starch
- ½ cup Clear Washable School Glue (You can use white but you won’t see as much of the pumpkin)
- ½ cup water
- Measuring cup, spoon and knife
Cut the top off the pumpkin. Make room inside the pumpkin by loosening up all the seeds and guts.
Mix ½ cup room temp water with ½ cup of clear glue in a bowl. Stir to fully incorporate.
Measure ¼ of a cup of liquid starch and pour directly into the pumpkin. Then pour the glue and water mixture into the pumpkin.
Get your hands in there and mix! Knead the slime well to help improve its consistency. The trick with liquid starch slime is to put a few drops of the liquid starch onto your hands before picking up the slime and wash your hands well when you’re finished playing.
COOK WITH PUMPKINS
Instead of buying canned pumpkin it’s very easy to cook or roast your own pumpkin from scratch. When choosing a pumpkin to eat, look for a small brightly colored pumpkin that is deep orange. Be sure to choose a variety intended for cooking such as sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins for the best flavor and texture.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Cut the pumpkin in half, from top to bottom (not side to side), then remove the seeds and stringy bits and save the seeds to toast later (see recipe below).
- Place both halves cut side down on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet and place in a preheated oven for about an hour and 15 minutes or until soft.
- Remove from the oven and let cool.
Use this pumpkin puree in one of the recipes linked below!
TOASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS
- 2 cups pumpkin seeds, cleaned and washed
- 1 tablespoon corn or sunflower oil
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
In a bowl, mix oil, butter and salt. Mix in seeds and coat well. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 225 degrees for an hour, stirring frequently.
The recommended age to let kids carve their own pumpkin is 9 to 12, depending on strength and skill level. If you’re younger than that it’s best to let an adult do the carving after you draw the face on the pumpkin. You can also put down the carving knife and use craft supplies to make an amazing pumpkin!
Use hot glue to attach classic candies, like licorice swirls, candy corn, and jelly beans, in the shape of facial features.
First, paint the pumpkin green with acrylic paint; let dry overnight. Stick pieces of black, red, white and green duct tape onto wax paper, and then cut out facial features. Remove wax paper and stick on.
Go outside on a scavenger hunt in your backyard, or a local park, and find leaves, feathers, acorns, sticks, pine cones, seeds, or garden vegetables!
A FEW PUMPKIN VARIETIES
There are at least 45 different varieties of pumpkin! If you’re looking for something a little different than the typical round, orange pumpkin, read about a few of the other types of pumpkins below.
As adorable as their name suggests, these edible, palm-size minis become more uniformly orange as they ripen. They are the perfect choice for table setting decorations or decorating in small spaces.
These ghostly white beauties are known for their long and distinct handles, typically a warm shade of green, along with their bright-white hue, and perfect shape. The color of this pumpkin won’t easily alter due to sun or frost.
Long Island Cheese
The color of this pumpkin resembles that of a pale cheese, thus its distinct name. This medium-sized pumpkin typically weighs about 10 pounds, has light ribbing, and is known for its sweeter taste. This classic pumpkin dates back to the 19th century.
This French heirloom produces a flattened globe with salmon-peach skin. The knobby, shell-like bumps on this French heirloom (also called galeux d’Eysines) are caused by a buildup of sugar beneath the skin.
This rare Japanese pumpkin is recognized by its unique black, warty skin and nutty, fresh flavor. They ripen in winter storage, when the green halo between the flesh and skin disappears and skin turns from black to chestnut.
Warty Goblin F1 Hybrid
Dare little hands to touch this spooky showstopper, which has weird, lumpy warts that pop against the shiny skin.
MORE ABOUT PUMPKINS
WORLD’S HEAVIEST PUMPKIN
The Guinness World Record for Heaviest Pumpkin is held by Mathias Willemijns from Belgium and his 2,624.6 pound pumpkin! That’s heavier than a small car.
READ ABOUT PUMPKINS
- Pumpkin circle : the story of a garden by George Levinson follows a pumpkin patch as it grows and changes, from seeds to plants to pumpkins ready to harvest, to jack-o-lanterns and then to seeds again.
- We Harvest Pumpkins in Fall by Rebecca Felix explains how pumpkins grow from blossom to fruit, how and when they are harvested, and what they can be used for.
- Carving Pumpkins by Dana Meachen Rau features a step-by-step guide on how to carve pumpkins.
- 101 Things To Do With Pumpkin by Eliza Cross celebrates the flavor of pumpkin year-round with 101 sweet and savory recipes