They’re gourd pumpkins, Brent: how ugly squash conquered the holidays

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Silvia Cardullo/PSU Vanguard

Did you know that a zucchini and a pumpkin are the same thing? Technically, they are in the same family, but would you put the former in your holiday pie? Probably not.

The delightful round and ribbed orange gourds we decorate our decks with on Halloween and draw alongside turkeys in our holiday art aren’t always what we’re glopping into our yummy baked tarts, though. It’s true they’re a variety of Cucurbita, Latin for squash, but selective breeding has created something odd.

The history of pumpkin eating hasn’t always been sweet

After colonizers—the buckle hat ones—arrived in this beautiful land, they quickly discovered gourds. Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald identify multiple uses for pumpkin in the colonial era in their book America’s Founding Food, including smushed up pumpkin. Plain but delicious, the Wampanoag taught colonialists how to make this staple of feast food. It clearly made its mark since a version of this mash is present on Thanksgiving dinner tables to this day.

However, culinary historians will tell you sweet pies weren’t really a thing at that point, so expecting a crusty little pumpkin is wishful thinking.

So what else were they going to do with pumpkin to fill the time? They would also scoop out the pumpkin’s innards (delightful) and fill it with a lovely stew of pumpkin and whatever was in season at the time.

Imagine: venison, root vegetables and pumpkin. Now imagine you’re a pumpkin and some colonialists are going all Hannibal Lecter on you by slopping your own brains back into your head. Delicious for the people, but not so pleasant for the pumpkin!

Who wants pie?!

Classic pie gourds looked pretty gourd and photogenic, but they didn’t produce quite enough flesh to sustain the capitalist pie machine. This posed a question: how do we take this beloved orb of holiday goodness and create something more profitable? The answer was a mix of using other squash and selective breeding.

The former involves other types of winter squash, and the latter led to the creation of many varieties of pumpkin.

However, we ended up with something less than photogenic. Just look at the Dickinson Pumpkin. Even the best-looking ones aren’t anything like the kind you’d see a buckle hat-wearing turkey riding at a parade. Thankfully, we have marketing to close the perception gap and ensure people still think pumpkin when they scoop mush into mixing bowls this holiday season.

You were expecting a recipe?

In lieu of a recipe, we will leave you with this: the largest pumpkin pie ever, which weighed 3,699 pounds, and here are some details of what you’ll need to bake one.

Prime PSU Vanguard Pumpkin Content

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