New crop varieties were welcomed into our victory garden this summer, namely pumpkins and gourds (genus Cucurbita). Hubby and I have always focused on traditional food crops suitable for canning, freezing, or storing, including green beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions, peas, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, turnips and sweet potatoes. With a temporary pause on chicken ranching, we decided to till up the chicken yard and plant vine crop seeds, including cantaloupe, pumpkins and gourds.
Neither of us is a big fan of pumpkin pie or pumpkin loaf, but we do enjoy holding an annual pumpkin carving contest between us for bragging rights. Of all the crops we tend and nurture, growing pumpkins served as one of the most enjoyable garden endeavors ever! The chicken yard, with its nutrient-rich soil, produced vines that quickly overtook the area, a portion of the lawn, and the propane tank. I sheepishly apologized to our propane delivery driver, as he had to fight his way through the tangled morass of vines to fill our tank. I need to remember to give him a pumpkin as payment for his toil the next time he visits.
Pumpkin crops have been grown in the Americas for about 10,000 years, making the crop one of the oldest cultivated foods in this hemisphere (even older than beans and corn). Seeds from the Oaxaca (pronounced “wa-HA-ka”) Highlands in Mexico were discovered during archaeological investigations, thereby dating the use of this domesticated crop.
Ancient civilizations cooked the flesh over fires for food, wove mats from dried pumpkin strips, and used the hollowed-out shells as containers. The flesh was also dried and pounded for flour or kept for later use, thereby ensuring nutrition in lean times. Aztec peoples snacked on pumpkin seeds, and medicinally, several cultures used the sap or pulp for soothing burns or ridding the body of intestinal worms.
Christopher Columbus and other explorers of the time noted the use of pumpkins by Native Americans, and soon the venerable fruit was consumed by colonists and transported back to the Old World. New England-based colonists cut the top off the pumpkin and added milk, cinnamon/other spices, and sugar to create a tasty dessert. Sounds familiar doesn’t it – the precursor to the ubiquitous pumpkin pie.
Present-day farmers grow a whopping 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins annually, and try to visit a grocery store, microbrewery, or coffee house in the fall without encountering a pumpkin-infused product of some sort. Ohio ranks as a top 10 state for pumpkin production, affording farmers the opportunity to diversify their operation and boost revenues.
Pumpkins offer fun in several forms. In Ireland and Scotland, folks used to carve small lanterns out of turnips or potatoes. Immigrants from these areas replaced these root vegetables with readily-available pumpkins, and the jack-o-lantern was born, circa the mid-1800s. Another fun, competitive activity associated with pumpkins is “chunking.” Pumpkins are heaved by non-motorized, mechanical means, with the winning pumpkin hurled the furthest. A friend of mine enjoys pumpkin chunking using a home-made trebuchet (a type of catapult with a long arm and counterweight) at his annual Halloween party held on his farm. The carved pumpkin is stuffed with straw and a little flammable liquid, lit, and goes traversing though the night sky a-glow. There’s nothing like a flaming pumpkin projectile to stir the excitement of the autumnal season.
I look forward to discovering ways to preserve my harvest of pumpkins, from roasting seeds, making pumpkin soup and pasta sauce, and dehydrating pumpkin flesh to make fruit leather. As harvest of the pumpkin patch continues, I’m reminded that the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation Board of Supervisors’ annual election nears. Eligible voters can cast a ballot by requesting an absentee ballot for mailing. Additional details concerning the election, including a slate of candidates, will be forthcoming on our website and in our October e-newsletter.
Kim Marshall is the communication specialist for the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.