Nothing says autumn more than a beautiful, orange pumpkin, but this most beloved symbol of fall is hiding some fun little secrets. Think you know everything there is to know about these great big gourds? Here are 12 fun facts about pumpkins:
1. Pumpkins are fruits, not vegetables
Fruits are considered to be the part of the plant that has seeds on the inside. By this definition, a pumpkin is definitely a fruit. They’re a member of the gourd family, which includes other fruits like watermelon and winter squash.
2. Pumpkin pie wasn’t served at the pilgrims’ Thanksgiving
Despite our modern-day obsession with pumpkin pie this time of year, it was nowhere to be found at the original Thanksgiving feast of 1621. Pilgrims wouldn’t have had butter or flour for making pie crust, let alone an oven for baking. Some historians speculate that the Pilgrims may have hollowed out pumpkins to fill with milk, spices, and honey for a custard-like dessert, but even this has never been proved.
3. Pilgrims did like pumpkin beer
We tend to think of pumpkin beer as a new fad, but the Pilgrims were onto it hundreds of years ago. The main reason pumpkin was adopted as a beer ingredient during the Colonial period was simply just availability — pumpkins were everywhere. Malt wasn’t easily accessible and pumpkins served as an easily fermentable sugar.
4. The first jack-o’-lanterns
Early jack-o’-lanterns were made by carving turnips or potatoes — not pumpkins. The Irish and Scottish used them as part of their pagan Celtic celebrations, while the English did the same thing, just with beets instead. In fact, the tradition of the jack-o’-lantern stems from the Irish legend of a man named Stingy Jack who was known as somewhat of an unpleasant trickster. Immigrants brought their carving traditions to America, but found that pumpkins were a much easier alternative.
5. Pumpkins originated in North America
The oldest seeds have been found in Mexico and date back to between 7,000-5,500 B.C. Pumpkins and other forms of squash were an important food staple for Native Americans. They referred to pumpkins (squash) along with two other important crops, beans and maize (corn), as the “Three Sisters,” and they planted them together since they helped each other grow. The corn serves as a trellis upon which the beans can grow high and reach sunlight; the beans put nitrogen in the soil, which helps the corn grow tall; and the pumpkins shaded the ground, thereby crowding out weeds and protecting the shallow roots of the corn.
6. Pumpkins grow (almost) everywhere
Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica. They even grow in Alaska.
7. More than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin are produced in the U.S.
And 80 percent of this crop are picked within one single month of the year — October. The top-producing pumpkin states are Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California. In fact, Morton, Ill., is the self-proclaimed “pumpkin capital” of the world because it’s home to the Libby’s corporation.
8. Pumpkin seeds as snacks
The average-size pumpkin contains about 1 cup of seeds.
To roast seeds: Separate seeds from the stringy pulp and run them under cold water (a colander works well here). Then carefully blot dry. Preheat oven to 250ºF. Make a seasoning mix with butter or oil and your favorite dry seasonings. Try Cajun, taco, simple salt and pepper or whatever you’re feeling. Bake for about 45 minutes, then increase the temperature to 325ºF and bake for another 20 minutes or longer — until seeds are crispy. Stir a few times during baking.
9. Your jack-o’-lantern won’t make a good pie
Those oversized pumpkins you pick up at the roadside stand are bred for size, not flavor. Farmers know that most people buy pumpkins that they can carve, so they don’t worry about their tastiness. If you plan on using fresh pumpkin to cook, pick up a Cinderella, Pink Banana Squash or Sugar Pie pumpkin variety. A 5-pound pumpkin should yield two pies.
10. World’s largest pumpkin pie
The largest pumpkin pie ever made was 20 feet in diameter and weighed 3,699 pounds. It was made in September 2010 by the New Bremen Giant Pumpkin Growers (USA) at the New Bremen Pumpkinfest in New Bremen, Ohio.
11. Pumpkin contest winner
Each year, growers compete for the title of largest pumpkin. The U.S. record for largest pumpkin ever grown was awarded to Steve Geddes of Boscawen, N.H. His pumpkin weighed 2,528 pounds, earning Geddes $6,000 in prize money at the Deerfield Fair in 2018. The world record was set in 2016 by Mathias Willemijns of Belgium, whose pumpkin tipped the scale at a whopping 2,624 pounds.
12. National Pumpkin Day is celebrated every Oct. 26
National Pumpkin Day is an unofficial holiday that is celebrated annually on Oct. 26. The holiday serves as a day to give thanks for the squash that have been such an integral part of North American heritage. It’s also a convenient day to carve a pumpkin, since most pumpkins will hold up a few days before Halloween on Oct. 31.