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Pumpkin

Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima


Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand

Description

The pumpkin comes in a variety of different shapes and forms, and the word is often used interchangeably with varieties of squash, such as the buttercup and butternut. Pumpkin is also commonly known as winter squash.

Generally, the pumpkin refers to a gourd of a round shape and thick skin. In New Zealand, they’re commonly a grey colour with orangey-yellow flesh and large seeds, but it’s often the bright orange ‘Halloween’ pumpkin that first springs to mind when we think of pumpkins.

Pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, as well as vitamin C, folate, potassium, manganese, and fibre.

Take a good look at your pumpkin before you buy it, as if it’s been picked too early it will rot quickly. Choose one that’s firm, feels heavy for its size, and has a dull, not shiny, skin. If there are any signs of decay, such as soft, watery spots or patches of mould, leave it. Store whole pumpkins at room temperature in a dark place, where they will keep for up to several months. Once cut, cover in plastic wrap and store in the fridge.

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History

Squash and pumpkin originates from the area of Central America around Mexico. As far back as 3000BC, they were consumed as ‘the apple of God’. Thought to increase fertility, they were often planted outside homes. Early forms of squash contained little flesh, which was unpleasantly bitter anyway, so they were mostly cultivated for their seeds.

Squash didn’t arrive in Europe until the 16th century, when Columbus brought them back from the New World, and wasn’t commonly eaten until three hundred years later.

Pumpkins, squash, and other gourds have found their way around the world. In New Zealand, remains of gourds have been found in pre-European Maori sites, and even today, pumpkin and squash are popular additions to hangi.

Uses

Pumpkin is particularly good roasted. Cut it into wedges or chunks, toss in olive oil and roast at 200° for 30 minutes until tender. Roasted pumpkin turns nutty and sweet, and is excellent as a side dish with other roasted vegetables, or you can turn it into soup, either after roasting or by putting it straight into a pot. Pumpkin can be interchanged with butternut and buttercup in practically any dish.

Facts

As a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, pumpkin is a close relative of the courgette, the melon, and the cucumber.

The name pumpkin comes from the Greek pepon, which means ‘large melon’.

Pumpkins are grown on six of the seven continents – the exception being Antarctica.



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