How do you mend a broken jack-o-lantern?

With a pumpkin patch of course!

A pumpkin that grew in my patch this year

A pumpkin that grew in my patch this year

Pumpkins are a long-standing and important element in our fall holidays.  They are a member of the squash family that are believed to have originated somewhere in the Americas.  Today though, they are grown on 6 of the 7 continents (Antarctica isn’t exactly well suited for growing much!).  They are a pretty hardy and resilient plant, so they are popular among even novice gardeners.

We went on a hayride and visited an amazing pumpkin patch.  I think this one's got my name on it.  Big, big carving plans!

We went on a hayride and visited an amazing pumpkin patch. I think this one’s got my name on it. Big, big carving plans!

The name “pumpkin” means “large melon.”  It’s become an American custom to try to grow large pumpkins (after all, the county fair is coming up!), and grow them large we have!  The biggest pumpkin grown so far weighed in at 1,810.5 pounds!!!!  It was grown just this year in Wisconsin.  (I’d like to know how they got it to the scale?!)  This has been achieved through a lot of cross breeding of large varieties of pumpkins over the years.

One of the neat things about pumpkins is that they are monoecious, meaning they produce both male and female flowers on the same plant, so you only need one plant for them to successfully grow.  “Monoecious” comes from the Greek for “one household”–both male and female are in one household of the pumpkin plant.  Pine trees and corn are also monoecious.  Pumpkin pollination also depends a great deal on honeybees, as the wind isn’t a sure enough pollinator for pumpkin plants.  Often farmers and gardeners will include beehives near pumpkin patches to aid in pollination.  We have a beehive in our yard, and I watched our bees spend A LOT of time on the giant orange pumpkin flowers…they love pumpkin pollen.

baked pumpkinWe typically think of pumpkins most often for carving, but they are also delicious.  When Thanksgiving comes around we go buy a can of pumpkin puree and hardly think about the fruit it came from.  Instead of buying your canned pumpkin or pre-made pie this year, you can make one using your Halloween jack-o-lantern.  After Halloween, cut up Jack into large chunks and place them on a baking dish.  Cover them with some foil and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and half.  Let them cool a bit, then cut the skins off.  This will be really easy because the baking makes the fruit nice and soft.  Now just put the pumpkin chunks in your blender or food processor and blend them up.  It’s just like the canned pumpkin you buy from the store, except now you see just what it’s made from.  Now you can make all your favorite fall recipes–pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin rolls and pumpkin cookies!  Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin flowers are also edible.

Native Americans introduced the white settlers to pumpkins.  They cut up the fruit and roasted it over the fire to eat.  They also cut up and dried strips of pumpkin to weave into mats.  We also have them to thank for pumpkin pie.  The first pumpkin pie filling came about by carving the guts out of a pumpkin and filling it with milk, honey, and spices, then roasting the whole thing is the ashes of a fire until it was soft and warm.

Additional Layers:

  • Pumpkins were once thought to cure snake bites and remove freckles. Neither of those work, but pumpkin can cure my fall sweet tooth!
  • Pumpkins are 90 percent water.  Compare that with the water content of other popular fruits like grapes, apples, grapefruit, melons, and oranges.  You might even graph them.
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever baked weighed over 350 pounds and was over 5 feet in diameter.
  • Pumpkin chucking makes for a great lesson in physics.  Have your own pumpkin chucking contest.  Each participant or team has to create a simple machine that will propel the pumpkin the furthest.  (Think catapults, slingshots, and air cannons.)  Get several pumpkins that weigh the same amount and get building!
  • A lot of great literature has references to pumpkins –  Harry Potter, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Cinderella to name a few.  There is often an air of mysticism relating to pumpkins because of their tradition of warding off evil spirits.
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