Very few items are as evocative of a season as are pumpkins; Jack-O-Lanterns, pumpkin pies and warm spices all come to mind.
Yet, the history and importance of the pumpkin is often over looked. Native Americans prized pumpkins/squashes as a sacred crop, as they also did with beans and corns, in fact, these three crops are known as the Three Sisters.
The pumpkin vines provided much needed shade for the soil, helping to keep the moisture in the ground as all three crops were grown symbiotically. Archaeologists have found evidence that pumpkins have been grown for millennia, in fact, it is believed that the first crop was grown in Oaxaca, Mexico over 7,500 years ago.
These early crops bore very little resemblance to the round, bright orange specimens we have grown accustomed to. Small and hard with a rather bitter flavor, it is believed that pumpkins were one of the earliest crops domesticated by early civilizations as a food source. Their hard, thick skin allowed the pumpkins to be stored through the hard winter months and became a hedge against crop failures. Interestingly, it is believed the early English settlers were probably quite familiar with the pumpkin, as seeds were brought back to Europe by explores and became rather popular in Great Britain.
One of the most familiar uses for pumpkins is the ubiquitous pumpkin pie.
However, the early version didn’t use the pumpkin as the filler, but rather it was used as the cooking vessel. Modernization and increased availability changed how we began to utilize pumpkins, and with the advent of commercial canning, the popularity of pumpkin pies was cemented into our collective consciousness.
So, is it really pumpkin you’re buying in those cans?
Maybe not. The most popular brand acknowledges that it uses 100% Dickinson Pumpkins, which bear little resemblance to the round, orange pumpkins we have grown to associate with all things pumpkin.
Why use this variety?
That answer is really quite simple, Connecticut Field Pumpkins are really not that flavorful and the flesh is rather stringy. The FDA has even issued regulations stating: “In the labeling of articles prepared from golden-fleshed, sweet squash or mixtures of such squash and field pumpkin, we will consider the designation “pumpkin” to be in essential compliance with the “common or usual name” requirements …of the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.”
- Pumpkins are 90% water
- 80% of the American Pumpkin supply is available in October
- Native Americans made mats out of strips of dried pumpkin
- Over 90% of the pumpkin crop grown domestically is grown in Illinois
Canned pumpkin has it’s place, but cooking with pumpkins and squash is pretty easy. Call your rep and check out what varieties we have available today!
*Pumpkins and hard winter squash varieties are generally available from late September, peaking in October, and then start to taper off during November with a few varieties available just before Thanksgiving.
Content provided by Daniel Snowden, the Director of Culinary Development for FreshPoint Central Florida. He has been in the produce industry years almost 20 years, and loves getting geeky about food. Follow FreshPoint Central Florida on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.