In the United States, pumpkins go hand in hand with the fall holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Harvested in October, this nutritious and versatile orange fruit features flowers, seeds and flesh that are edible and rich in vitamins. Pumpkin is used to make soups, desserts and breads, and many Americans include pumpkin pie in their Thanksgiving meals.
Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns is a popular Halloween tradition that originated hundreds of years ago in Ireland. Back then, however, jack-o’-lanterns were made out of turnips or potatoes; it wasn’t until Irish immigrants arrived in America and discovered the pumpkin that a new Halloween ritual was born. Now pumpkins are commonly placed on stoops in the falls months, and get carved ahead of Halloween night.
Here are six things you may not know about them.
1. From Central America to Global Gardens
Pumpkins are a member of the gourd family, which includes cucumbers, honeydew melons, cantaloupe, watermelons and zucchini. These plants are native to Central America and Mexico, but now grow on six continents—all but Antarctica.
2. Pioneer Crop
Indigenous North Americans have grown pumpkins for thousands of years—even before the cultivation of beans and corn.
3. The Etymology of a Gourd
The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word Pepõn, which means large melon. It was then nasalized by the French into "pompo”, which the English changed "pompon" to "Pumpion,” and so on until American settlers arrived at the word we use today.
4. Illinois: Pumpkin Capital
According to the 2017 U.S. Agriculture Census, Illinois is the largest producer of pumpkins in the United States. It harvests twice as many pumpkin acres as any of the other top-producing states.
5. Record-Breaking Gourds
The heaviest pumpkin was grown in Belgium in 2016 and weighed a whopping 2,624 pounds. The heaviest pumpkin in the U.S. was grown in New Hampshire in 2018 and weighed 2,528 pounds. The largest pumpkin pie ever baked was in Ohio in 2010. It weighed 3,699 pounds and was over 20 feet in diameter.
6. Timely Planting, Yearly Harvest
Pumpkin seeds should be planted between the last week of May and the middle of June. They take between 90 and 120 days to grow and are picked in October when they are bright orange in color. Their seeds can be saved to grow new pumpkins the next year.
The Food That Built America
Watch every season of the hit show The Food That Built America. Available to stream now.