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5+7 Amazing Facts about the Pumpkin You Didn’t Know

Here’s the full inside story of the pumpkin. Pic from Bolthouse Farm
Here’s the full inside story of the pumpkin. Pic from Bolthouse Farm

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It’s that time of the year again when pumpkins get on everybody’s mind ─ thanks to Halloween costume parties (at least on this side of the world and around the globe) and in Ireland ─ where Halloween originated, and the US.

Yes, it was the Irish who brought the practice of lantern-carrying to America when they migrated to the US in the 1800s but did you know, their candle-lit lanterns back in the day in rural Ireland, were carved out of turnips, not pumpkins?

Really creative Jack-O-Lanterns. Some are simply stunning. Pic from http://parade.com
Really creative Jack-O-Lanterns. Some are simply stunning. Pic from http://parade.com

First of all, pumpkins did not exist in Ireland, so the ancient Celtic cultures carved turnips instead for the celebration of All Hallows Eve and placed an ember in them to ward off evil spirits. They carved other available vegetables and fruits as well, such as potatoes, gourds and beets ─ anything that could hold a piece of burning coal inside.

Snap-Apple Night (1833), painted by Daniel Maclise shows people playing divination games on 31 October in Ireland. Pic via Wikipedia
Snap-Apple Night (1833), painted by Daniel Maclise shows people playing divination games on 31 October in Ireland. Pic via Wikipedia

When these Irish settlers arrived in the US, they threw the turnip out in favour of the pumpkin because the bright orange squashes with their robust skin and flesh, withstood carving better.  Plus, pumpkins were plentiful in America, they had tons of them and the fruit ─ yes, the fruit ─ as reference.com will assure you, was bigger, sturdier, and allowed the carver the span of size to let his imagination run wild.  Thus, pumpkin-carving became associated with the celebration of Halloween.

So it wasn’t an exclusively all-American thing back in its day but through its sweeping popularity as an occassion for outlandish fun (as opposed to its original intention as a pagan Celtic celebration),  it certainly grew to become one today ─ with, of course, lashings of trick or treating, pranks, snap-apple games, dressing up and of course, lighting up the night with Jack-O-Lanterns.

But why are these carved pumpkins called Jack-O-Lanterns? Ah! The answers are below.

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Here’s where we Begin our 5 Amazing Facts about the Pumpkin you Didn’t Know

1 Jack-O-Lanterns are called Jack-O-Lanterns because the guy who started it all was called Jack

Legend has it that Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who liked playing tricks on just about everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. One day, he tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree, then put crosses around the tree trunk so that the Devil wouldn’t be able to come down. Stingy Jack held the Devil ransom and made him promise not to take his soul when he died. Only when the devil promised did Stingy Jack remove the crosses for the Devil to climb down.

Stingy Jack (left) as depicted by a pumpkin-carving artist as a scheming glutton eating his way out of a pumpkin, and (right), the original turnip lanterns of the Irish folk in the 19th century (pics from Pen and Paper and Nicker Stories respectively)
Stingy Jack (left) as depicted by a pumpkin-carving artist as a scheming glutton eating his way out of a pumpkin, and (right), the original turnip lanterns of the Irish folk in the 19th century (pics from Pen and Paper and Nicker Stories respectively)
You wouldnt believe this is a pumpkin. The Chioggia Sea Squash in all its lumpy glory via Shutterstock
You wouldnt believe this is a pumpkin. The Chioggia Sea Squash in all its lumpy glory via Shutterstock

Many years later, Jack died, and at the pearly gates of Heaven, he was admonished by St Peter for being mean and cruel, and for leading a miserable, worthless life. Therefore, St Peter would not be let Stingy Jack into Heaven. Turned away, Stingy Jack went to Hell instead but the Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell as well.

Now Jack was scared. He had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the dark Netherworld between Heaven and Hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave, as there was no light. The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell. Jack had a turnip with him. It was one of his favorite foods, and he always carried one with him. Jack hollowed out the turnip, placed the ember inside the turnip and from that day onwards, roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way with his “Jack O’Lantern”.

2 There are at least 50 Different Varieties of Pumpkins

That’s not all of them.
That’s not all of them.

While orange may be the colour most recognizable in pumpkins, did you know that pumpkins come in many different colors, textures, shapes and sizes? There are at least 50 different varieties of pumpkins across six to seven continents, with new hybrid designer and even freaky-looking ones coming up every day.

There are varieties called Halloween in Paris from France, Cinderella (the varietal cultivated by the Pilgrims), Wee-Be-Little a miniature, Red Warty Thing, Jack Be Nimble, the Jarrahdale Blue, and even the all-white Cotton Candy Pumpkin and all their variations.

Here are Some Pixes of their Varieties that will Blow your Mind

Here’s a variety of warty pumpkins. They are all the rage now, the freakier the better and the more expensive.
Here’s a variety of warty pumpkins. They are all the rage now, the freakier the better and the more expensive. Some of them are now called “designer” pumpkins with deliberate manipulation of the genes to grow those warts. The result is a stunning recreation of an age-old fruit.

3 Dissecting the Pumpkin: It is a Fruit, a Squash, a Superfood but treated as a Vegetable

The Pumpkin is defined as a fruit because it comes from a flower. Botanists consider fruits to be the portion of a plant that forms from a flower and also the part of a plant that contains seeds. Stems, leaves, roots and even flower buds are considered to be vegetables.

All in the family. Yes, they are.
All in the family. Yes, they are.
The Red Warty. Aaargh! Image: VasekaPhotography
The Red Warty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say. Aaargh! Image: VasekaPhotography

Further, the pumpkin is a member of the gourd family ─ the same as the watermelon, zucchini and cucumber.

The Jarrahdale pumpkin via Shutterstock
The Jarrahdale pumpkin via Shutterstock

However, they are treated as vegetables in most recipes.

But whether vegetable or fruit, it cannot be argued that they are powerpacked with antioxidants and disease-fighting nutrients. That is why they are also considered a Superfood. To confuse the matter further ─ pumpkins, squash and gourds are members of the enormously diverse Cucurbitaceae family, which contains more than 100 genera and over 700 species.  They have been providing mankind with food and utilitarian objects since before recorded history.  Various members of the genus Cucurbita are known as squash or gourds. The pumpkin is therefore one type of squash and both belong to the same family (the Cucurbitaceae).

Look! It’s Snow White here. Even the flesh inside is white! Actually, this variety is called Cotton Candy.
Look! It’s Snow White here. Even the flesh inside is white! Actually, this variety is called Cotton Candy.

4 The Bard has written about the Pumpkin, others too ─ the Pumpkin is thus a Literary Food!

William Shakespeare, otherwise known as The Bard, has featured the pumpkin in the Merry Wives of Windsor. So too has Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hallow. And then of course, there’s Cinderella and her pumpkin carriage.

Here are 7 most famous Pumpkins in Literature

merry-wivesFallstaff: a Gross Watery Pumpkin (Merry Wives of Windsorby Nathaniel Hawthorne)
The Merry Wives of Windsor is unique among Shakespeare’s comedies for several reasons. First of all, it’s the only one of his comedies set in England. One of the characters is Falstaff, a fat, cowardly knight, a thief, a rough-swearing, hard-drinking man of insatiable appetites. While we’ve seen how monstrously flattering he can be towards himself, he attempts his seduction by singling out a woman’s least flattering traits: she’s growing old, as he is, and he claims she loves to drink, as he does. To make matters worse, he has written Mistress Page’s good friend, Mistress Ford, the identical letter, as if—as Mistress Page speculates—“he hath a thousand of these letters, writ with blank space for different names”—in other words, as if it were a form letter. These intelligent women—and the most intelligent characters in Shakespeare’s comedies are often his women—aren’t taken in one inch by Falstaff’s designs, calling him at one point an “unwholesome, gross watery pumpkin.”

cinderellaCinderella’s Pumpkin Carriage (The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, by Charles Perrault)
While Cinderella is a very, very old story, with the earliest version dating all the way back to 7 B.C., most of the key markers we associate with it come from Cendrillon, the 17th-century Charles Perrault retelling. It’s from Perrault that we get the benevolent fairy godmother, the lizards that turn into footmen and the mice that turn into horses, the fragile glass slippers, and the pumpkin carriage itself (basically everything good about Disney’s Cinderella except for Lucifer the cat—and seriously, what would that movie be without Gus Gus? Or that beautiful bit of animation with the pumpkin transformation?). A very famous pumpkin indeed, Cinderella’s carriage has enjoyed several centuries of acclaim and will no doubt continue to do so.

sleepy-hollowThe Shattered Pumpkin (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving)
It’s hard to feel sorry for the Ichabod Crane of Irving’s tale, a scrawny opportunist out to marry an 18-year-old for her money (this is in comparison to the extremely sympathetic—and dishy—Ichabod Crane of the delightful television show Sleepy Hollowbut then the only things those two properties have in common is their proper nouns). Still, he probably didn’t deserve his fate: tormented and attacked by a terrifying headless horseman that may or may not have been his rival riding with a pumpkin “head” on his saddle and then apparently vanishing off the face of the earth, leaving behind his horse, his saddle, and a shattered pumpkin. Sadly, the Shattered Pumpkin never rose to the heights of Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, but has been ranked among solid B-list pumpkin celebrities since the first half of the century.

ozJack Pumpkinhead (The Marvelous Land of Oz, by L. Frank Baum)
Jack Pumpkinhead first appeared in The Marvelous Land of Oz, the second of Baum’s Oz series. He’s a dapper gentleman with a jack-o-lantern for a head (an actual pumpkin, not a rutabaga), purple trousers, and a pink-and-white polka-dotted vest, who lives in a pumpkin-shaped house and gets into a great number of adventures with his friends. Since his heads decay like normal pumpkins, he has to continually grow new ones, which Princess Ozma carves. Despite not always being very bright (his intelligence may depend on the number of seeds in his current head), he’s apparently quite a gifted architect, designing a luxurious corn-shaped mansion for the Scarecrow later in the series. A good pumpkin to have as a friend.

geishaPumpkin (Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden)
Wait, this Pumpkin isn’t even a squash! But as a supporting character in the bestselling Memoirs of a Geisha, she briefly enjoyed about fifteen minutes of pumpkin fame in 1999, and again when the movie came out in 2005.

feathertopFeathertop, from “Feathertop,” (Mosses from an Old Manse, by Nathaniel Hawthorne)
In this sad tale, a witch builds a pumpkin-headed scarecrow to protect her garden, and in a strange twist decides it would be good fun to bring him to life, give him a human appearance, and send him off to woo the daughter of a judge. The scarecrow, named Feathertop, does as he is bid, and soon he and the daughter fall in love…that is, until they both see his true reflection in a mirror, causing the girl to faint and Feathertop to plunge headlong into a depressive existential crisis and then [SPOILER ALERT] kill himself. Feathertop: the tragic hero of pumpkins.

great-pumpkinThe Great Pumpkin (Waiting for the Great Pumpkin, by Charles M. Schulz)
The Great Pumpkin is a most important figure, a holiday giant on the lines of Santa Claus, who has one die-hard believer: Linus van Pelt. Made famous by animated television special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Great Pumpkin never appears, and Linus never stops believing in it. In Waiting for the Great Pumpkin we follow Linus’s faithful wait from the beginning—and who knows, maybe this is the year it’ll finally show up in the pumpkin patch. You won’t know if you don’t wait for it.

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5 Pumpkin Seeds are a Natural but Effective Dewormer6-pumpkin-seeds

Tapeworms. That’s what the Russians used pumpkin seeds to purge. Today, they have been confirmed in studies to be an effective parasite cleanse, not just for tapeworm but for a variety of parasites and worms, even if they have grown to the adult stage, and pumpkin seeds eliminate viral infections as well.

One study affecting 115 patients with adult tapeworms in their intestinal tract found extraordinary results with limited side effects from treatment using pumpkin seeds. Following treatment, all patients either expelled the tapeworms entirely, in pieces or had no further evidence of tapeworm infection. Although results occurred within a couple hours for some individuals, the successful removal of the parasite was observed to occur within 15 hours following treatment.

Now is the pumpkin a proven superfood or what? Even its seeds are phenomenally power-packed!
Now is the pumpkin a proven superfood or what? Even its seeds are phenomenally power-packed!

Not only will pumpkin seeds deworm humans, they do just an effective job on pets too. Ground pumpkin seeds sprinkled on dog food will naturally expel parasites and keep them nicely worm-free and healthy too.

Other Interesting Info on the Pumpkin

Pumpkin Patch. Pic from indiancountrytodaymedianetwork
Pumpkin Patch. Pic from indiancountrytodaymedianetwork
  1. Illinois is the top producer of pumpkins in America. 90% of the canned pumpkins eaten in the US are canned in Morton, Illinois. The town has held an annual pumpkin festival since 1963.
  2. The top four pumpkin producing states in America are Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California.
  3. The record for the world’s largest pumpkin was set in 2012. It weighed 2,009 pounds.
  4. Pumpkin seed oil is a traditional remedy in the Middle East for prostate problems.
  5. Archeologists say the pumpkin has been grown in the Americas for at least 6,000 years and is believed to be an older crop than corn.
  6. The name “pumpkin” originated from pepon, the Greek word for “large melon.” Pepon was nasalized by the French into pompon, which was then changed by the English into pumpion, which later became “pumpkin” via American colonists.
  7. Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America. Seeds from related squash plants have been found in Mexico, dating back to 5500 BC.
The Cucurbita pepo variety which are edible mini pumpkins, downsized and redressed in a new orange-striped outfit.
The Cucurbita pepo variety which are edible mini pumpkins, downsized and repackaged in a new white and orange-striped outfit.

And there you have it, folks ─ you’ve discovered 5 + 7 amazing things you’ve never known about this fabulous Autumn-only annual fruit. Only on Livingmsia!

Like to know more amazing things about the pumpkin? Find out how it can help you healthwise, especially on High Blood Pressure! Click the link!

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