Did you know? The history of a pumpkin (often called a jack-o-lantern when carved during the Halloween season), dates back all the way to early Greece. In fact, the word "pumpkin" got its name from the Greek word "pepon" meaning large melon! The early pumpkins were not round and resembled a large turnip in shape. In fact, pumpkins and other squash types were often grown along riverbanks with beans and sunflowers long before corn was cultivated. A pumpkin is not considered a vegetable, but a fruit because of its seeds, although when it is cooked, it is often referred to as a vegetable!
Pumpkins have a colorful history in North America and often were not just simply orange as we recognize today, but grew in many colors such as yellow, white or a reddish color. The First Nations used to roast strips of pumpkin for food during the long winter months and would also eat the pumpkin seeds or use them for medicine or ground them into a flour. One rumor that still exists today is that Christopher Columbus actually took pumpkin seeds with him back to Europe, although they simply used them as feed for the pigs.
Early pilgrim settlers also quickly fell in love with the pumpkin and would cut the top off a pumpkin and hollow the inside out, and then fill it with cream, honey, eggs and spices and cook it in the ashes of a cooking fire. The pilgrims actually made a pumpkin beer which contained hops, maple sugar, pumpkin and persimmons. Today, pumpkin ale, pumpkin latte, pumpkin muffins and scones seem to be flooding the stores as soon as Fall approaches.
The jack-o-lantern is believed to have originated in Ireland as they used to carve faces in turnips, potatoes and other root vegetables as part of a Gaelic festival. There are over 50 different types of pumpkins in the world, and some can grow several hundreds of pounds in size. With so many immigrants from Europe, carved turnips and potatoes quickly lost their popularity and were replaced by the easily grown and carved pumpkin.