The sophisticated pumpkin

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I have a kind of love and hate relationship with the pumpkin. When I was a kid, I couldn’t stand the sweet and slimy pumpkin baked in the oven. But in San Francisco after eating a pumpkin soup, I fell in love with. And since I’ve been living in Germany for a decade, I’ve tried almost 100 variations of pumpkin dishes. The Germans especially prefer it at fall.

All about pumpkin

The pumpkin is a cultivar of winter squash. Native to North America (northeastern Mexico and the southern United States), and they are one of the oldest domesticated plants, having been used as early as 7,500 to 5,000 BC. Nowadays pumpkins are widely grown for commercial use and as food, aesthetics, and recreational purposes. Pumpkin pie, for instance, is a traditional part of Thanksgiving meals in Canada and the United States, and pumpkins are frequently carved as jack-o’-lanterns for decoration around Halloween, although commercially canned pumpkin purée and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash than the ones used for jack-o’-lanterns.

So as we can see pumpkins are very versatile in their uses for cooking. Most parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the fleshy shell, the seeds, the leaves, and even the flowers. Pumpkin purée is sometimes prepared and frozen for later use. When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, steamed, or roasted. In its native North America, pumpkins are a very important, traditional part of the autumn harvest, eaten mashed and making its way into soups and purées. Often, it is made into pumpkin pie, various kinds of which are a traditional staple of the Canadian and American Thanksgiving holidays. In Canada, Mexico, the United States, Europe and China, the seeds are often roasted and eaten as a snack.

Pumpkins that are still small and green may be eaten in the same way as summer squash or zucchini. In the Middle East, pumpkin is used for sweet dishes; a well-known sweet delicacy is called halawa yaqtin. In the Indian subcontinent, pumpkin is cooked with butter, sugar, and spices in a dish called kadu ka halwa. Pumpkin is used to make sambar in Udupi cuisine. In China and Korea, the leaves of the pumpkin plant are consumed as a cooked vegetable or in soups. In Australia and New Zealand pumpkin is often roasted in conjunction with other vegetables. In Japan, I lived in Hokkaido, where small pumpkins are served in savory dishes, including tempura. In Myanmar, pumpkins are used in both cooking and desserts (candied). The seeds are a popular sunflower seed substitute. In Thailand, small pumpkins are steamed with custard inside and served as a dessert. In Vietnam, pumpkins are commonly cooked in soups with pork or shrimp. In Italy, it can be used with cheeses as a savory stuffing for ravioly. Also, pumpkin can be used to flavor both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.

In the southwestern United States and Mexico, pumpkin and squash flowers are a popular and widely available food item. They may be used to garnish dishes, and they may be dredged in a batter then fried in oil. Pumpkin leaves are a popular vegetable in the Western and central regions of Kenya; they are called seveve, and are an ingredient of mukimo, respectively, whereas the pumpkin itself is usually boiled or steamed. The seeds are popular with children who roast them on a pan before eating them. Pumpkin leaves are also eaten in Zambia, where they are called chibwabwa and are boiled and cooked with groundnut paste as a side dish. Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are edible and nutrient-rich

Traditionally Britain and Ireland would carve lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnipmangelwurzel, or swede, they continue to be popular choices today as carved lanterns in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The practice of carving pumpkins for Halloween originated from an Irish myth about a man named “Stingy Jack”. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger – making them easier to carve than turnips. Not until 1837, does jack-o’-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern, and the carved pumpkin lantern association with Halloween is recorded in 1866. In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween. In 1900, an article on Thanksgiving entertaining recommended a lit jack-o’-lantern as part of the festivities that encourage kids and families to join together to make their own jack-o’-lanterns.

Association of pumpkins with harvest time and pumpkin pie at Canadian and American Thanksgiving reinforce its iconic role. Starbucks turned this association into marketing with its pumpkin spice latte, introduced in 2003. This has led to a notable trend in pumpkin and spice flavored food products in North America. This is despite the fact that North Americans rarely buy whole pumpkins to eat other than when carving jack-o’-lanterns. Illinois farmer Sarah Frey is called “the Pumpkin Queen of America” and sells around five million pumpkins annually, predominantly for use as lanterns!

Growers of giant pumpkins often compete to see whose pumpkins are the most massive. Festivals are often dedicated to the pumpkin and these competitions. I participated in one in Ludwigsburg/Germany two years ago. It was a mega event! Pumpkins everywhere. The record for the world’s heaviest pumpkin was, 1,190.5 kg (2,624.6 lb), and was established in Belgium in 2016.

In the United States, the town of  Half Moon Bay California, holds an annual Art and Pumpkin Festival, including the World Champion Pumpkin Weigh-Off.

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