A pumpkin to a fourbyer is the front gearbox on a 4x4, this is what houses the final set of gears that all the twisting and turning of the engine, transmission, and transfer case must go through before reaching the wheels.

The Story of Pumpkins

Pumpkins have been in cultivation for thousands of years. Nine thousand year old seeds found in caves in north east Mexico indicate that pumpkins originated in Central America. There is evidence that edible squashes were grown in Africa, India and China from the 6th century AD, but they didn’t make it to Europe until the 16th century, when they were brought back from the first journeys to the New World. Exotic and sweet tasting, pumpkins became very fashionable in Europe. They were stuffed with apples and sweet herbs, and then baked. An early incarnation of pumpkin pie was made by frying the flesh with apples and herbs, mixing it with sugar and egg, and then baking it with a crust topping.

The name 'pumpkin' comes from the Greek word 'pepon', meaning 'sun-ripened'. This name was reinterpreted by the French as 'pompon', Anglicised to become 'pumpion' before being rebranded 'pumpkin' by early American settlers. The French also had a rethink, and a French pumpkin is now known as une citrouille.

The story of pumpkins is not complete, of course, without a mention of their starring rôle in Halloween celebrations. Early Irish immigrants to America found the pumpkin to be superior lantern making material to their traditional swede or beetroot, and the pumpkin has been a defining symbol of Halloween since the 1800s.

Let's cut to the chase: will pumpkins improve my sexual performance in any way?

Claims about the medicinal properties of pumpkins abounded when they were 'discovered' by Europeans. Native Americans had of course been exploiting the medicinal benefits of pumpkins (amongst other plants) for many years before the arrival of the Conquistadors. Unpleasant-tasting pumpkin seed tea was administered as a diuretic, and also as a treatment for tapeworms, which is common practice amongst herbal medics today.

Central Europeans believed that pumpkin seeds increased testosterone by preserving the prostate gland. It transpires that pumpkin seeds contain high levels of magnesium, which has proven effective in the treatment of prostate ailments. Pumpkin seeds are also good source of zinc and phosphorous, both of which are important nutrients for sexual function in men. This may explain the reputation of pumpkin seeds as an aphrodisiac. Unfortunately the aphrodisiac effect of food has no basis in scientific fact, and must be taken to be entirely psychological, so slipping seed into your sweetheart’s sandwiches is just not going to cut it. Try eating them naked, by candlelight, whilst listening to Serge Gainsbourg.

What exactly is a pumpkin?

Pumpkins are simple fruits, with pulpy flesh and large, flat, oval seeds. Technically speaking, they are in fact berries. Members of the gourd family, Curcubitacae, pumpkins are related to melons, cucumbers and other gourds. There are few botanical distinctions between pumpkins and other winter squash, and botanical authorities hold conflicting views on the exact definition of each.

Most edible squash are from one of three main species: Curcubita maxima, C. moschata and C. pepo. It is an incredibly diverse group, displaying wide variation in size, shape, colour and texture. The smallest cultivars are no bigger than a tennis ball. Round, squat, long or bisected fruits in a wide spectrum of orange, yellow and green colours are displayed, and the skin can be smooth, warted or ridged.

The plants themselves are usually large, trailing vines with broad, five or seven-lobed leaves which vary in colour and markings depending on the species. The stems and leaves are covered in short, stiff hairs, which are mildly irritant. The flowers are funnel shaped and bright yellow in colour. Plants from the Curcubitacae family are monoecious, bearing separate male and female plants on the same plant (which means you need only one plant for fertilization to occur.) More male than female flowers are produced. Male flowers are recognised by their longer stem and single calyx, while the embryonic fruit is visible at the base of the short stemmed female flower.

Champion giant pumpkins!

The highly competitive world of champion giant pumpkins brings out the monomaniac in some growers. William Greer of Pickton, Ontario grew the first pumpkin to break the 1 tonne barrier in 1996. His glory was short lived, however: the world title was snatched from his grasp an hour later by a pumpkin from Clarence, New York that weighed in at 1061 lb. Nathan and Paula Zehr had spent a total of 900 manhours nurturing their world beater, which was about the size of a small rhinoceros. A giant pumpkin, typically disfigured during growth by the force of gravity on its immense weight, resembles nothing more than the lumpen, sprawling stomach of a morbidly obese person who has recently suffered a fatal beta carotene overdose. If you should wish to grow one of these, the secret lies in selecting seed from a suitably enormous parent pumpkin, planting early, and maintaining optimum conditions for growth through carefully regulating climactic conditions and feeding and watering regimes. The current world record, held by Charlie Houghton, is 1337.6 lbs.

Can I grow my own pumpkins?

Pumpkins grow rapidly given the right conditions. Their broad leaves provide good ground cover, suppressing weed growth and reducing water loss from the soil by evaporation. There are smaller varieties and bush cultivars, which are useful if growing space is limited. Pumpkins will also scramble up walls and cane structures, which makes an attractive display of the decorative qualities of the developing flowers and fruits, and encourages even ripening.

They are warm-season annual plants with no frost tolerance, preferring an average temperature of 18-30°C. Grow in a warm, sunny, sheltered site as exposure to wind will increase water loss (see factors affecting the rate of transpiration). Pumpkins are composed of 90% water so it’s important not to let the soil dry out. Pumpkins also have fairly high nitrogen requirements, and the ideal soil for growing any type of squash would be fertile, humus rich, moisture retentive but free draining, and have a pH of 6.0 (slightly acid). However, by incorporating organic matter into the soil, feeding when fruit begins to set and watering when necessary, most soil imbalances can be addressed and pumpkins will grow well as long as the temperature is high enough.

Sowing and planting
Seeds can be sown direct, at intervals of 1 metre or more, depending on the cultivar, when the soil begins to warm up in spring. Plant two or three seeds together and later thin them out, selecting the strongest plant. In colder areas, sow indoors in pots a couple of weeks before the last expected frost. Sow two seeds in each 8cm pot and thin out the weaker seedling. Harden off by placing in a cold frame or sheltered area of the garden for a few days before planting out when the risk of frost has passed.
Routine cultivation
Keep the soil weed free by hoeing regularly. Applying a mulch will help to suppress weeds, as well as regulating soil temperature and conserving soil moisture. Feed with a general, balanced NPK fertiliser soon after planting to encourage root and foliage growth. Water regularly until the root system is well established, and in times of drought. The long, trailing shoots can be trained using bent wire to pin the stems to the ground, or grown over supports, which must be well constructed if they are to withstand the weight of the plant. It will require tying in to the supports initially, but once established the plant’s tendrils will hold it in place. Remove any unwanted shoots. If you want to grow a small number of larger pumpkins, you can remove new flowers as they appear, after the fruit you require has set. Feed fortnightly from mid summer until early autumn with a high potassium fertilizer for good quality fruit.
Harvesting and storing

Leave the fruit to mature on the plant for as long as possible. Raise them off the ground on bricks or wooden blocks to prevent rotting. When ripe, the stems will crack and the skin will toughen. Pick before the first frosts, or approximately 12-20 weeks after planting, depending on the desired size. If you wish to store the fruit for any length of time, cut them off with as much stalk as possible and leave in the sun to further harden the skin for several days if possible. A thicker skin minimises water loss, allowing longer storage times. A temperature of around 10°C and good ventilation, to delay decomposition, and high humidity, to prevent water loss, are the ideal storage conditions. Stored in this way, pumpkins will keep for four to six months.

Pests and diseases

Slug damage in the early stages of growth and cucumber mosaic virus are the main threats. Slugs can be combatted with strategically positioned metaldehyde pellets, beer traps, and nocturnal patrols with a salt shaker or a sharp implement. Cucumber mosaic virus, spread by aphids, affects the leaf’s ability to photosynthesize and cannot be cured. Remove and burn affected plants, take care not to contaminate healthy plants, and plant replacements elsewhere.

Can't I just buy one instead?

Not everyone has the time, space or inclination to grow pumpkins. When buying a pumpkin, select those which are heavy for their size and free from cuts, cracks soft spots. If you're going to eat it, choose a smaller one, as larger fruits can taste bland and watery and the flesh sometimes deteriorates and becomes stringy. If you're lucky enough to live in a pumpkin producing area, try buying direct from a farm, so you know the fruit hasn't been badly stored or damaged in transit.

Eating pumpkins

Admittedly, pumpkins take a little effort to prepare, but don’t let that tough skin get between you and the best meal for a cold winter’s day that you ever ate. Dense, smooth and ooh! umami, pumpkin based savoury dishes are the last word in comfort food. The Italian recipe for pumpkin risotto is perhaps the epitome of this - soft, warm and nourishing. Pumpkin is ideal for soups, stews, and sweet or savoury flans and pies. It also makes a moist, light bread. Boiled, steamed or, ideally, slowly oven roasted pumpkin, is delicious mashed with butter and a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pumpkin seeds are a healthy, energy boosting snack, containing essential fatty acids and various vitamins and minerals. Mix a handful in with the flour when you're making wholemeal bread, add them to homemade muesli, or scatter them over salads.

Pumpkin flowers make a great starter dipped in a standard batter mix and then shallow fried in olive oil.

Nutrition Information

per cup of boiled, drained pumpkin:

  • Calories 49
  • Protein 2 grams
  • Carbohydrate 12 grams
  • Dietary Fibre 3 grams
  • Calcium 37 mg
  • Iron1.4 mgv
  • Magnesium 22 mgv
  • Potassium 564 mg
  • Selenium .50 mg
  • Vitamin C 12 mg
  • Niacin 1 mg
  • Folic acid 21 mcg
  • Vitamin A 2650 IU
  • Vitamin E 3 mg
  • Zinc 1 mg
  • The orange colour of pumpkins comes from the beta-carotene they contain. Beta carotene, the plant version of vitamin A, is a powerful anti-oxidant, thought to be beneficial to health in a number of ways, mainly by boosting the immune system. The fibre content benefits the digestive system, and pumpkin is fat and cholesterol free, making it heart-friendly too (until it becomes a component of pumpkin pie, that is).





    Me. I'm Pumpkin.

    Well, truth be told, I'm not. I'm actually Punkin, to my mother anyway. I think because of her Jersey accent (sorry mom - like it or not, you have a pronounced Jersey drawl. You always have and you always will) and partially because I'm, well, spunky. Irreverent. Wielder of the shit-eating grin.


    It's a strange term of endearment. It isn't some familial legacy that's managed to survive my longer-than-normal teenage years (what, you thought you automatically stopped being a teenager when you turned twenty?) and she doesn't keep it up to remind me that yes, even I had to be potty trained and schooled in the ways of the fork. She started calling me that around my twenty-first birthday.

    For those of you not versed in my chronology (ie, almost all of you), that was last year.

    She doesn't know where this little verbal quirk got its start, but I think I can hazard a guess. It was around that time that I stopped rolling over on my father.

    He and I have always had a unique and...well, frustrating way of dealing with each other. Basically, he'd pick at some little thing that I thought or did that bugged him until it bled and I'd suck it up, block him out, ignore him completely and, once he had shut up about it, realize that he was probably right, that wearing all black in high school is simply not cool or that, yes, I probably am a better person now that I've read Saint Joan. It wasn't too bad when I was living with them and all that, but it was a little ridiculous once I'd moved out and started paying bills. Not all of them, mind you, but enough to feel like an adult.

    So instead of sitting there and waiting for his mood to lighten I started fighting, and if there's one other thing my father taught me it's how to be absolutely brutal with words if I need to be.

    And all of a sudden this amazing thing happened - he started listening to me because, now that he's taught me how to teach myself and pointed me in the right direction, he thinks I'm smarter than him on some things.

    Shit, I could've told him that years ago.

    Ask my mom about this and she'll probably think it's inventive and utterly fictional (and it very well might be) but I really like the sound of it anyway.

    Harvest time.

    The angel of death carries a scythe, a trite cartoon figure in these times--the media will carry on long after you rot. If you did not believe you were eternal, you might be more careful. And if you were more careful, you might be more judicious. And if too many of us are too judicious, the economy collapses. So keep believing you are eternal.

    My father died August 3rd. I held his hand when his heart stopped once, then twice, then forever. I'm not feeling so eternal these days.

    My father flew planes. He grew up in the slums of Pittsburgh. He was poor. He was tough. The United States military has money to burn. If you are a slum child, a farm boy, or a prince, you are welcome to try to fly for the United States Marine Corps. Few are good enough. He was good enough.

    On the day he died, one of his best friends, Bob Nixon, dropped by the hospice, as breezy as a summer visit can be. My father had just fallen asleep. My father never woke up. Still, I had a lot to learn about my father from Bob, and he had a lot to learn from me.

    The presence of a dying man in a room does not make you more eloquent; there is a matter-of-factness to life that resists recognizing death, even in the last few hours of a good friend or a father. You may be lucky enough not to have learned this yet.

    Bob Nixon grows champion pumpkins, pumpkins in the hundreds of pounds. I occasionally grow ordinary pumpkins. This year I planted Howden pumpkins, an heirloom variety. Howdens are the kind of pumpkins that define Hallowe'en jack-o-lanterns. Bright orange, deeply lined, stiff stem. Pumpkins have male and female flowers. The male flowers come first (life is life after all), the female flowers later. It was already August, and my vine made only male flowers.

    Bob commiserated with me--too late for any decent fruit this year. It happens. My Dad's breathing became increasingly irregular, with occasional gasps. We still talked of pumpkins. Bob left. A few hours later, Dad died.

    I came home August 4th. A tiny green ball of a pumpkin sat on the vine. The vines were starting to lose leaves to mildew. It has been a wet, cool summer in the eastern United States. A good year for cucumbers usually means a bad year for pumpkins.

    Today I harvested a 26 1/2 pound heirloom Howden pumpkin, and a somewhat smaller kin. I pulled the vines up. A careful gardener would throw away the vines--they are sick. I am not a careful gardener. The vines sit in their own compost pile.

    September air in New Jersey is crisp, the shadows sharp. I walked about 5 miles today with my lover. We have over 90 years of life between us. We spent a few moments trying to remember a movie.

    You know, the one with Cher and what's-his-name...the title had "moon" in it....
    Moon River...Cosmo's Moon?....
    Yeah, it had Cosmo's moon, but that wasn't the name....
    Ah, yes, the actor was in "Face Off" with Travolta, but I count on you to remember names....
    I don't remember....wait...Nicholas Cage.
    (And then I remembered the film--Moonstruck)

    Getting older is scary--mildew collects, things fall apart. I have had more September days like this in my past than I can expect in my future. Still, as I ripped down the pumpkin vine today, it still had bright orange flowers, ignoring the winter that promises death. On our walk today Leslie and I saw ducks cavorting as though it were spring--any ducklings conceived today are doomed tomorrow--but that is not today's concern.

    I'm going to take a picture of my pumpkin. I'm going to mail the picture to Bob Nixon. His pumpkins dwarf mine, but he'll like the picture. For a Howden, it's a monster--no one expects them to weigh more than 25 pounds, especially one conceived in August.

    And in the comfort of a western myth, I can imagine my Dad grinning like a jack-o-lantern; and when I carve my Howden, the left eye will be slightly droopy. If you see my Dad's picture, you'll know why.

    Thanks to yclept for her advice on when to pick the fruit of my mildewy plant.
    Thanks to my father whose faith in life superceded his faith in God--yes, I believe he had something to do with this pumpkin; what's left of him rests in a wildflower garden in Vermont.

    Pump"kin (?), n. [For older pompion, pompon, OF. pompon, L. pepo, peponis, Gr. , properly, cooked by the sun, ripe, mellow; -- so called because not eaten till ripe. Cf. Cook, n.] Bot.

    A well-known trailing plant (Cucurbita pepo) and its fruit, -- used for cooking and for feeding stock; a pompion.

    Pumpkin seed. (a) The flattish oval seed of the pumpkin. (b) Zool. The common pondfish.


    © Webster 1913.

    Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.