Pumpkin is a gourd-like squash of the genus Cucurbita and the family Cucurbitaceae (which also includes gourds). It is a common name of or can refer to cultivars of any one of the following species: Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita moschata.
Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. In general, pumpkins have stems which are firmer, more rigid, pricklier, have a +/- 5 degree angle, and are squarer in shape than squash stems, which are generally softer, more rounded, and more flared where joined to the fruit.
Pumpkins generally weigh 9–18 lbs (4–8 kg) with the largest (of the species C. maxima) capable of reaching a weight of over 75 lbs (34 kg). The pumpkin varies greatly in shape, ranging from oblate through oblong. The rind is smooth and usually lightly ribbed. Although pumpkins are usually orange or yellow, some fruits are dark green, pale green, orange-yellow, white, red and gray.
Pumpkins are monoecious, having both male and female flowers, the latter distinguished by the small ovary at the base of the petals. These bright and colorful flowers have extremely short life spans and may only open for as short a time as one day. The color of pumpkins is derived from the orange pigments abundant in them. The main nutrients are lutein, and both alpha and beta carotene, the latter of which generates vitamin A in the body.
Pumpkin is the fruit of the species Cucurbita pepo or Cucurbita mixta . It can refer to a specific variety of the species Cucurbita maxima or Cucurbita moschata, which are all of the genus Cucurbita and the family Cucurbitaceae.
Although native to the Western hemisphere, pumpkins are cultivated in North America, continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India, and some other countries. The pumpkin is the state fruit of New Hampshire.
As one of the most popular crops in the United States, 1.5 billion pounds (680,388,555 kilograms) of pumpkins are produced each year. The top pumpkin-producing states in the U.S. include Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California. Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop that is usually planted in early July. The specific conditions necessary for growing pumpkins require that soil temperatures three inches (7.62 centimeters) deep are at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit and soil that holds water well. Pumpkin crops may suffer if there is a lack of water or because of cold temperatures (in this case, below 65 degrees; frost can be detrimental), and sandy soil or soil with poor water filtration. Pumpkins are, however, rather hardy, and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines to replace what was removed.
Pumpkins produce both a male and female flower; honeybees play a significant role in fertilization. Pumpkins have historically been pollinated by the native squash bee Peponapis pruinosa, but this bee has declined, probably due to pesticide sensitivity, and today most commercial plantings are pollinated by honeybees. One hive per acre (4,000 m² per hive) is recommended by the United States of America (US) Department of Agriculture. If there are inadequate bees for pollination, gardeners often have to hand pollinate. Inadequately pollinated pumpkins usually start growing but abort before full development. An opportunistic fungus is also sometimes blamed for abortions.
Weigh-off competitions for giant pumpkins are a popular festival activity. 460 pounds (208.65 kilograms) held the world record for the largest pumpkin until 1981 when Howard Dill (of Nova Scotia) broke the record with a pumpkin near 500 pounds (26.79 kilograms). Dill patented the seeds used to grow this giant pumpkin, deeming them Dill’s Atlantic Giant seeds, and drawing growers from around the world. Dill is accredited for all of the giant pumpkins today, most of which are borne from crossing and re-crossing his patented seed with other varieties. By 1994, the Giant Pumpkin crossed the 1,000-pound (453.59-kilogram) mark. In September 2007, Joe Jutras (of Rhode Island) obtained the title of world’s largest pumpkin with a cream-colored, 1,689-pound (766.12-kilogram) fruit. He is currently said to be working on producing a giant orange pumpkin, as orange pumpkins tend to be smaller and have thinner shells but are more desirable in appearance.
When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted. Often, it is made into pie, various kinds of which are a traditional staple of the Canadian and American Thanksgiving holiday. Pumpkins that are still small and green may be eaten in the same way as the vegetable marrow/zucchini. Pumpkins can also be eaten mashed or incorporated into soup. In the Middle East, pumpkin is used for sweet dishes; a well-known sweet delicacy is called halawa yaqtin. In South Asian countries such as India, pumpkin is cooked with butter, sugar, and spices in a dish called kadu ka halwa. In Guangxi province, China, the leaves of the pumpkin plant are consumed as a cooked vegetable or in soups. In Australia, pumpkin is often roasted in conjunction with other vegetables. In Japan, small pumpkins are served in savory dishes, including tempura. In Thailand, small pumpkins are steamed with custard inside and served as a dessert. In Italy it can be used with cheeses as a savory stuffing for ravioli. Also, pumpkin can be used to flavor both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.
Pumpkins are commonly carved into decorative lanterns called jack-o'-lanterns for the Halloween season in North America. Throughout Britain and Ireland, there is a long tradition of carving lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip, mangelwurzel, or swede. Not until 1837, however, does jack-o'-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern, and the carved lantern does not become associated specifically with Halloween until 1866. Significantly, both occurred not in Britain or Ireland—but in North America. Historian David J. Skal writes,
In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween.
Pumpkin growers often compete to see whose pumpkins are the most massive. Festivals are often dedicated to the pumpkin and these competitions.
The town of Circleville, Ohio, holds a big festival each year, the Circleville Pumpkin Show. The town of Half-Moon Bay, California, holds the annual Pumpkin and Arts Festival, drawing over 250,000 visitors each year and including the World Champion Pumpkin Weigh-Off. Farmers from all over the west compete to determine who can grow the greatest gourd. The winning pumpkin regularly tops the scale at more than 1200 pounds. The world record pumpkin in 2007 was 1689 pounds, grown by Joe Jutras in Topsfield, Massachusetts.
The town of Morton, Illinois, the self-declared pumpkin capitol of the world, has held a Pumpkin Festival since 1966. The town, where Nestlé's pumpkin packing plant is located (and where 90% of canned pumpkins eaten in the US are processed) carved and lit pumpkins in one place: a record that the town held for several years before losing it to Boston, Massachusetts, in 2006. A large contributor of pumpkins to the Keene Pumpkin Fest in New Hampshire is local Keene State College, which hosts an event called Pumpkin Lobotomy on its main quad. Usually held the day before the festival itself, Pumpkin Lobotomy has the air of a large party, with the school providing pumpkins and carving instruments alike (though some students prefer to use their own) and music provided by college radio station WKNH.