by BRIAN MINTER
October 16, 2007
Tomatoes may be the most popular garden plant, and zucchinis the most productive, but pumpkins are, by far, the most fun! pumpkins
are often a child's first introduction to horticulture, and from their early history in the Americas to their future in space gardening research, they deserve a little more credit than just being a Jack O'Lantern.
All pumpkins are indigenous to America and were grown along with corn by native Americans, making them one of the first companion crops. Members of the 'cucurbitaceae' family, their close relatives are watermelon, gourds, squash and cantaloupe.
Recently a flurry of new pumpkin varieties has being developed. A bush-type variety, called "Spirit", which has vines that only spread about three feet, delights pumpkin growers with limited space. It is prolific, much like a zucchini, and harvesting a dozen or more ten to fifteen pound fruits is not uncommon. For more adventurous growers, there are various strains of the "Atlantic Giant" available. They are bred for size. The winning entries in the World pumpkin Confederation Weigh Off often exceed 1000 pounds! You would need a chainsaw to carve these monsters and a shovel and wheelbarrow to clean them out.
On the sweeter side, smaller is better. "Sugar" or "Pie pumpkins" are the traditional varieties for pies. Grown from seed stock imported from China, Stokes Seeds have introduced a variety called "Sweetie Pie". Considered a delicacy in China, these miniature pumpkins fit nicely in the palm of your hand. They average only five ounces in weight, measure about three inches across and about one inch deep - real giants! They are very attractive because of their deep ribbing and can be dried like gourds for neat table decorations. A white one, called ‘Baby Boo’, and a white and orange striped variety, called ‘Pumkemon’, are the latest additions.
'Little Lantern' will be of interest to young pumpkin growers. They only measure five to seven inches across, but they really produce lots of little fruits in eight weeks. They make great pies too.
pumpkin seeds, which are very high in vitamins, are a delicacy in the Middle East. With the development of two new varieties, "Tricky Jack" and "Lady Godiva", there are now hull-less seeds, which can be eaten like peanuts when lightly roasted. From Japan comes a new fresh edible seed variety called ‘Kakai’. It’s awesome, and its seeds are sweet and nut-like.
We all know about those scrumptious pumpkin pies. Another delicious pumpkin dish is made by baking or steaming pumpkin meat, then seasoning it with butter, salt, pepper and molasses. pumpkin bread is another popular favourite, and you have not eaten until you have tried pumpkin cookies stuffed with raisins. In the Caribbean Islands, one of the staple foods is pumpkin soup – however, this is where I draw the line because, quite frankly, it will never make the gourmet hit parade.
The Land Pavilion in Epcot Centre at Disneyworld, Florida, is experimenting with pumpkins as a food source for space expeditions. Trained upward along ropes, the vines grow about thirty feet high and are loaded with perfect ten to fifteen pound pumpkins. It is nice to think that the Jack O'Lantern we carve on Halloween to keep the evil spirits away has a great history and an even brighter future. Let's hear it for pumpkins!