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History of the Pumpkin

The domestication of pumpkins began with the native populations of the Americas. However, the earliest varieties of squash and pumpkins were actually considered more valuable for their edible seeds than for their flesh.

Research into the history of the use of pumpkins reveals that cultivation began in South America and the seeds eventually made their way to native populations in North America. With the arrival of Europeans to the Americas, pumpkins were quickly adopted by these newcomers. Through the early settlers, pumpkins seeds were eventually sent to Europe.

Pumpkins quickly found their way into the culture and folklore of the United States, with images of pumpkins appearing in the famous story by Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” One of the earliest traditional culinary uses of the pumpkin by the settlers was to bake a hollowed out pumpkin with other fruits, spices, and milk.

While the pumpkin is most often associated with the Jack O’Lantern, the first Jack O’Lanterns were not pumpkins. Strangely, the original was a turnip and the idea comes from an old Irish folktale. See this great site from the University of Illinois for a history of the Jack O’Lantern.


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