The season of fall is upon us which only means one thing: The obsession of all things pumpkin has returned.
Each year, Americans consume over $300 million worth of pumpkin-flavored products, including the famous pumpkin spice latte from coffee chain Starbucks, pumpkin-flavored Oreos, and a host of other pumpkin-flavored food and drinks.
So why the obsession?
According to Cindy Ott, professor of American Studies at St. Louis University, the pumpkin craze is more about the pumpkin feeling than the pumpkin flavor or nutrition.
Ott, the author of the “Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon,” said that pumpkins and some other types of squash are “botanically indistinguishable,” but the image of a round orange pumpkin is a nostalgic draw.
She explained that the fruit represents this “idyllic farm life,” and the “best sort of moral virtue that Americans have become attached to.”
Ott added that while pumpkin beers and pumpkin breads have been around since Colonial times, they weren’t always the specialty foods that they are today.
For example, pumpkin beer was used when there was no barley. If there was no wheat for bread, they used pumpkin for bread; pumpkin was considered food of desperate times.
According to Ott, the rehab of the pumpkin’s image began when 19th century Americans began to move away from rural life and into the city. As people became stressed about moving into the office and off the farms, pumpkins began to appear in poems and paintings as way mark of nostalgia for the old-fashioned, rural way of life.
While the pumpkin may have been a nostalgic symbol of a simpler way of life in the past, today it’s used as mass marketing tool to sell products such as beer, chocolate and cookies.
While these products are in heavy demand during the fall season, it’s important to note that many, if not all of these items, do not actually contain any real pumpkin in their list of ingredients.
For example, the famed Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte contains a natural and artificial pumpkin spice flavor.
However, while these fall favorites contain no real pumpkin, that fact hasn’t discouraged the public from indulging and making the months of September and October two of the largest months for the consumption of pumpkin of pumpkin-flavored items.
Commercialization of the pumpkin has reached unprecedented levels, according to Ott, who said that its popularity doesn’t just benefit the large companies who are jumping on the pumpkin bandwagon. Local farmers who grow pumpkins are seeing a rise in sales too.
Farms, such as the local Granddaddy’s Farm in Estill Springs, sell a variety of types and sizes of pumpkins that folks from in and around the state come to purchase and enjoy while taking part in the annual fall tradition.
The farm is located 454 Highland Ridge Road in Estill Springs. For more information on the variety of pumpkins available on the farm, visit online at granddaddysfarm.com.
Granddaddy’s Farm is not the only farm in area and around the state that are getting in on the pumpkin craze. Check out the Pick TN Products website at http://www.agriculture.tn.gov for a complete list of pumpkins patches located in the Volunteer state.
History of the pumpkin
The all about pumpkins website, www.allaboutpumpkins.com, sites the word pumpkin as originating from the Greek word Pepõn, which means large melon.
The word was gradually morphed by the French, English and then Americans into the word “pumpkin.” Pumpkins and squash are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas.
These early pumpkins were not the traditional round orange upright jack-o’-lantern fruit we think of today. They were a crooked neck variety which stored well. Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans.
Native Americans also roasted pumpkin strips over campfires and used them as a food source, long before the arrival of European explorers. Pumpkins helped the Native Americans make it through long, cold winters. They used the sweet flesh in numerous ways: roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried. They ate pumpkin seeds and also used them as a medicine. The blossoms were added to stews. Dried pumpkin could be stored and ground into flour.
Indians introduced pumpkins and squashes to the pilgrims. Pumpkins were an important food source for the pilgrims, as they stored well, which meant they would have a nutritious food source during the winter months. It is documented that pumpkins were served at the second Thanksgiving celebration.
The pilgrims were also known to make pumpkin beer. They fermented a combination of persimmons, hops, maple sugar and pumpkin to make this early Colonial brew.
There are many theories as to the origins of jack-o’-lanterns and Halloween. Early jack-o’-lanterns were carved from turnips and potatoes by the Irish and Scottish and carried in Celtic celebrations.
The English used beets. Lumps of coal were lit on fire and placed inside the hollow root vegetables. When European settlers arrived in America, they found that our American pumpkin varieties were well suited to being carved as a “Jack’s” lanterns.
A traditional jack-o’-lantern refers to a variety of pumpkin grown for its suitability for carving. Fairly large in size, pumpkins have upright strong walls and have a large hollow cavity.
In the late 1800s there was a movement to turn Halloween into a celebration emphasizing community and neighborhood activities and parties. This is the Halloween we know and celebrate today.
According to pumpkinfarm.com, a pumpkin is not a vegetable; it’s a fruit.
In fact, it’s a berry.
Pumpkins belong to the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes cucumbers, melons, squash and gourds. Within this family is the genus Cucurbita, which includes gourds, winter and summer squash and all varieties of pumpkin.
Real pumpkin is a super food. A cup of it has as much potassium as a banana and more fiber than a bowl of high-fiber cereal. It’s rich in calcium, iron and other vitamins, and it’s a top source of beta-carotene.
The following are a few nutritional facts about pumpkin.
– Pumpkins are low in calories but high in fiber. They are also low in sodium. The seeds are high in protein, iron, and the B vitamins.
– Pumpkins are very high in beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant. It converts into Vitamin A, which is important to maintain a healthy body.
– Researchers believe that eating a diet rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. They also believe it helps to delay aging.
Joining the pumpkin bandwagon
Whether you’re a fan of pumpkin in your coffee of just enjoy carving a funny face on one with your kids in time for Halloween, pumpkins without a doubt help one to get into the fall season.
Try the following recipe featuring pumpkin and enjoy the upcoming fall season.
Pumpkin Cake III
2 cups white sugar
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups canned pumpkin
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 12×18-inch pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a large bowl combine sugar and oil. Blend in vanilla and pumpkin, then beat in eggs one at a time. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in nuts. Spread batter into prepared pan.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.