Carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns is a popular Halloween tradition that originated in Ireland centuries ago. However, back then, these illuminated decorations were made from turnips or potatoes. It wasn't until Irish immigrants arrived in the United States and discovered pumpkins that a new Halloween ritual emerged. Today, it's common for people to place pumpkins on their doorsteps and carve them in the months leading up to Halloween. Here are six things you might not know about pumpkins.
From Central America to Global Gardens
Pumpkins are members of the gourd family, which includes cucumbers, cantaloupes, honeydews, watermelons, and zucchinis. These plants are native to Central America and Mexico but now grow on all six continents, except Antarctica.
Indigenous North Americans have been cultivating pumpkins for several thousand years, even predating the cultivation of beans and corn.
The Etymology of a Gourd
The name "pumpkin" has its origins in the Greek word "Pepõn," which means "large melon." Subsequently, the French nasalized it to "pompo," and in English, "pompon" evolved into "Pumpion," leading to the word we use today, as discovered by American settlers.
Illinois: Pumpkin Capital
According to the 2017 United States Agricultural Census, Illinois is the largest pumpkin producer in the United States. Its harvested pumpkin acreage is twice that of the next highest-producing state.
The heaviest pumpkin was grown in Belgium in 2016, weighing 2,624 pounds. The heaviest pumpkin in the United States was grown in New Hampshire in 2018, weighing 2,528 pounds. The largest pumpkin pie ever made was baked in Ohio in 2010. It weighed 3,699 pounds and had a diameter of over 20 feet.
Timely Planting, Yearly Harvest
Pumpkin seeds should be sown between the last week of May and mid-June. Pumpkins typically take 90 to 120 days to grow, and they are harvested in October when they turn bright orange. Their seeds can be saved for planting new pumpkins the following year.