Hello my dear readers,
It would really be nice to be able to transform a pumpkin into a chauffeured coach just by waving a magic wand over it right? Oh, that will be really great 😉
The pumpkin, belongs to the cucurbita family, and its scientific name refers to the dimensions that its fruit can have: cucurbita maxima.
This vegetable is harvested in the autumn and is very well preserved for months, so it is one of the precious winter vegetables.
In addition to the pumpkin that is cultivated for cooking, the plant is sometimes also cultivated to make ornamental pumpkins, which are dug and used as a container or as a Halloween lantern, the so called Jack O’ Lantern that you all know.
The origin of the pumpkin is controversial and somewhat uncertain.
On the place and period of origin of the pumpkin, as so often happens for the things farthest from our memory, everyone wants to have his say.
Known in Peru, as early as 1200 BC, it is said that the oldest seeds were found in the Ocampo caves, in Mexico, around 4900-6000 BC, landed in Europe along with the potato and tomato, only after the discovery of America.
According to some legends, instead, floating pumpkins would have taken adventurous trips, furrowing the ocean and landing, from the ancient motherland, in Asia.
Others trace the pumpkin back to the times of the ancient Romans, the Etruscans, the Phoenicians; but then also the Egyptians, Arabs, and Africans of Niger knew and cultivated it.
Despite the doubts about its origins, one thing is certain: the pumpkin, has always found its space on earth. In fact its branches meander in the fields, sometimes without restraint, proceeding forward and in several directions at the same time.
Its cultivation was not only a food purpose, think that the ancient people used it as a container for salt, milk or cereal, or even they craved dishes, bowls, spoons and the most creative, even extracted a musical instrument, the South American maracas.
There are a lot of varieties: oblong or round, large or small, green, yellow, striated, red.
Let’s see a few:
- Butternut – pumpkin with a slightly elongated fruit, light in color similar to ocher, with sweet pulp and excellent preservation, even 4 months from the harvest.
- Delica – small pumpkin, between one and two pounds on average, round and flattened, with yellow and sweet pulp. Varieties of Japanese origin are today among the most cultivated in our gardens. Also interesting because the delica pumpkin is short-lived, allows two cycles April-July and July-October, but cannot be conserved, to be consumed within two months from harvest.
- Spaghetti pumpkin – native from China, inside the flesh looks like a bunch of spaghetti, that can be also eaten fresh. Very rustic plant, easy to grow, this pumpkin is an original vegetable to experiment.
- Acorn pumpkin – are round, with even groves around the entire squash and moist, sweet, tender flesh. The skin is mostly dark green, with occasional splotches of orange and yellow and the flesh is slightly yellowish pumpkin orange.
Some varieties, sometimes strangely shaped, colorful and lumpy, in the shape of a bottle, are proudly displayed on tables and sideboards, becoming real furnishing objects.
They are loved by painters because they symbolize the fullness of life, maturity and sun.
The pumpkin is a magical, legendary fruit: in the past, the giant and empty ones were used by sailors as buoys or as a lifebuoy for inexperienced swimmers: in fact, in the Middle Ages, some stories describe how men and women were saved from the current of impetuous waters thanks to formidable pumpkins.
However, it did not have a great prestige and was commonly considered a food for low classes. The pumpkin was initially used to feed the peasant people that over time expertly obtained delicious recipes. The long famines caused the fall of prejudices for the pumpkins and began to be appreciated also by the more affluent social classes. Although initially this vegetable hit its strangeness, it finally attracted the attention of the palate. It was noticed, in fact, that his pulp became excellent if prepared with the right seasonings and aromas, such that today is cooked in various ways, it can be used to make a first or second course and why not also a dessert.
Pumpkin is a demanding vegetable but not particularly difficult to grow.
The mother plant develops around its own idea of growth and transformation, until it has completed the ripening of its fruit, with an almost primitive life force. While maintaining the dual nature of its flowers, producing at the same time male flower and female flower, which together through pollination give birth to the pumpkin, in the course of history it has changed different forms.
The pumpkin fears frost and suffers damage with temperatures below 10 degrees C, the plant suffers even if it is too hot, over 30 degrees C. The ideal way to cultivate it in the garden is a mild temperature, around 20 degrees. In the hottest summer months it can be useful to use shading nets.
The pumpkin needs a rich soil, ideally pH between 6 and 7.
The pumpkin is really very demanding in terms of fertilization: before cultivating it you can dig a hole to fill with manure, preparing this nourishment bed, or bury 3 or 4 quintals of manure every 100 square meters of vegetable garden.
The pumpkin can be sown directly in the garden, alternatively you can grow the seedlings in a jar. In seedbeds it is sown from mid-April and then transplanted from the end of the month, for pumpkin seedlings it is better to use fairly large jars with a diameter of minimum 8 cm.
The pumpkin plants have a great horizontal development, for this reason they are planted in groups of two, close to each other and each one is directed in a different direction. This saves manure and space, optimizing the garden. The distances to plant the pumpkins in the field must be very spacious: we are talking about 160 or 200 cm between the plants.
Pumpkin requires water, particularly when it starts to bloom. It is not necessary to wet it often but it is necessary to supply a lot of water so that it can penetrate deeply into the ground. However it is important to make sure that you do not allow excess water to stagnate, if this happens diseases could be favored.
The pumpkin is harvested when it is perfectly ripe, only with the maturation it becomes sweeter and tastier and it keeps longer. The ripe pumpkin is recognized when the peel is very hard and cannot be scratched with the nail.
To preserve the harvested pumpkins, they must be kept in a cool, dry place, but careful to put them in the cellar because it is often too humid. Once the pumpkins are harvested, they fear excessive cold, which can crystallize the pulp.
The pumpkin flower is delicious eaten fried in batter or creamy in risotto. The flowers can be harvested but being careful to not stop the pollination, otherwise you will lose the harvest of the fruit. The advice is not to harvest in the morning but afternoon and to take only the male flowers, recognizable by the elongated “petiole”.
Today the pumpkin is commonly used in the kitchen of different cultures. Pumpkin is a vegetable that lends itself to a thousand recipes: it is eaten cooked in the oven, steamed, in risotto or in pasta or in soups, fried in batter. From the seeds you get a reddish oil used in cosmetics and traditional cooking.
Creamy, colorful and with its sweet taste, pumpkin is one of the most versatile vegetables in the kitchen. From the traditional pumpkin risotto, which subtly transforms the soft pulp into a tasty cream that wraps the beans of rice tastefully, to the baked pumpkin, a simple but appetizing side dish that goes perfectly with meat or fish, there are many ideas to make the most of this autumn ingredient. The pumpkin is also the protagonist of delicious desserts such as pumpkin pie or pumpkin and chocolate cake, ideal to enjoy as a snack with an aromatic cup of tea.
In order to waste as little as possible and discover different flavors, every part of the pumpkin can be used: even dried and toasted seeds are an excellent salty snack, to be eaten at the aperitif. They can also be added in salads to flavor with a crunchy element.
Pumpkin is a vegetable rich in nutrients, has very few calories – 18 calories per 100 grams of product – and boasts important therapeutic properties.
It is very rich in carotenoids which in human cells transform into vitamin A. The carotenoids in the fruit serve to protect it from the sun’s rays and the same function also exercises it in the human body defending it from solar aggression. Once transformed into vitamin A, they act to improve night vision, intervene in fetal morphogenesis, improve the immune system and prevent aging.
Vitamin C also abounds in the pumpkin, an antioxidant complex that helps to counteract free radicals and reduce the damage caused by oxidative stress.
It is rich in water and poor in salt, therefore it is recommended in the diet of hypertensive people, during pregnancy, in the presence of water retention and liver cirrhosis.
In addition to the valuable properties of the vegetable, pumpkin seeds contain a true concentration of antioxidants. They are, in fact, rich in phytosterols, substances very similar to cholesterol, with which they tend to compete decreasing the harmful effects. In the seeds there are also discrete amounts of vitamin E, which plays an important antioxidant role.
Thank you all for reading.
Join me next time and let’s discover Mantova or Mantua, Italy, where for centuries the pumpkin has been cultivated and consumed, and it is, in fact, a precious ingredient of the local gastronomic tradition, making extremely tasty and ancient recipes such as Tortelli di Zucca, served since the sixteenth century.
And if you would like to discover more about our food, you may enjoy my previous posts
By for now 😉🤗
Photo credit: Google & Pixabay, edited by Popsicle Society