Pumpkins are members of the Cucurbita family which includes melons and gourds. The word pumpkin comes from the Greek “pepon” meaning large melon. They are native to North America, and pumpkin seeds dating from between 7000 and 5500 BC have been found in Mexico. They were cultivated by the Native Americans who used them for food and medicine and dried the fibres to make mats.
  The heaviest pumpkin in the world (so far) according to the Guinness World Records was grown by Chris Stevens of New Richmond, Wisconsin, USA, and went on display with two less heavy ones in New York’s Botanical Gardens in the Bronx in October 2010.It weighed 1,810 ½ lbs and the others weighed 1,725 lbs and 1,674½ lbs.
turnip carving
   Pumpkins are associated with Halloween when people carve faces in them and place lighted candles in them. Although pumpkins come from the New World, the tradition of carving faces into them actually comes from very ancient Celtic traditions when people carved faces and put lights into hollowed out turnips and beets. These were especially used for Samhain, pronounced “sow-ween” which occurred at the end of the old year and marked the transition from summer to winter and the start of the New Year. The Celts believed that the days between the seasons were a time of transition, when the thin veil between the corporeal world we live in and the spirit world was at its thinnest. Such times were the day of Beltane (May 1st) and Samhain at the end of October. So time did not exist on these days particularly on Samhain, which was when fairies, souls of the dead and other spirits wandered the Earth freely. It was a time for divination and there are many superstitions regarding this, but the Celts would put milk and food outside their houses for the fairies and the souls and light their way to it with Jack o’lanterns. They believed that they could communicate with their dead loved ones on Samhain nights.
   There is another Irish legend which was taken with the Irish immigrants to the US about “Stingy Jack” who thought he could outwit the Devil. This man Jack met the Devil in a bar and offered to buy him a drink. Of course the Devil accepted the offer with alacrity, but Jack wasn’t nicknamed “Stingy” for nothing. When the time came to pay for the drinks, Jack managed to persuade the Devil to turn into a coin and instead of paying for the drinks with it Jack put it into his pocket next to a silver crucifix. This prevented the Devil from changing back into himself and Jack struck a deal with the Devil, that if he freed him the Devil wouldn’t bother him or take his soul if he died, for a year.
   The Devil kept his side of the bargain and returned to Jack after the year was up. This time, Jack persuaded the Devil to climb a tree to pick an apple, and while he was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the bark so the Devil couldn’t descend. He and the Devil struck another bargain similar to the first except that the time was extended to ten years. During those years Jack died and God wouldn’t have such a man in heaven and the Devil, who was sticking to his side of the bargain, refused to have Jack in Hell. Instead he gave Jack a burning coal to light his way and sent him out into the world. Jack put the coal in a hollowed out turnip and has been roaming the world ever since, unable to go to either heaven or hell. In Ireland and Scotland people made scary faces out of turnips and beets and put candles inside them to keep Jack away from their homes. This tradition was taken to the US and Halloween was born. The turnip was replaced by the ubiquitous pumpkin and now pumpkin contests along with scarecrow ones take place all over America in autumn.
   The colonists in America made the precursor to the pumpkin pie which is served at Thanksgiving meals in the US in November by removing the seeds from pumpkins, filling the cavity with milk, spices and honey and baking them in hot coals in their fires.
  Pumpkins are 90% water, but are high in dietary fibre and low in calories, making them ideal for dieters. The orange colour indicates that they have a high carotene content and they are also packed full of minerals and vitamins, making them one of nature’s superfoods. They contain Alpha and Beta-carotene which are powerful antioxidants and the body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A which boosts the immune system. Beta-carotene reverses damage to the skin and protects from sunburn (as so orange-fleshed sweet potatoes) and is also an anti-inflammatory. Alpha-carotene is believed to slow the ageing process and reduce the threat of cataract growth in the lens of the eyes and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  The fibre in pumpkins ensures the body regularly dispels waste materials, so preventing constipation. It also lowers cholesterol levels, controls blood sugar levels and protects against heart disease .It aids digestion and plays a role in weight loss.
  Vitamin C which is also found in pumpkins, also boosts the immune system, reduces the risk of high blood pressure and lowers cholesterol levels. Vitamin E in pumpkins promotes healthy skin, protects from sun damage to it and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as some cancers.
  Pumpkins also have a high potassium level and this helps balance the fluids in the body, promotes healthy bones and helps control blood pressure. Pumpkins can also be used as a diuretic. The magnesium in a pumpkin again helps the immune system and bones and is good for the heart. Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B6, helps reduce stress and balances the hormone levels in the body. So pumpkins are very good for you and a healthy winter diet should include them, as they will help to stave off colds and flu.
   Pumpkin is a fruit not a vegetable, and can be used in sweet or savoury dishes. Its flesh can be pulped and used as a face mask and this is said to be good to get rid of pimples and too many freckles. It is an emollient and is also good to put on burns.
  The pumpkin featured in the fairy tale Cinderella, which was changed into her coach, and this nursery rhyme which American children all know:
     “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin eater
     Had a wife and couldn’t keep her.
     He put her in a pumpkin shell,
     And there he kept her very well.”

1 lb pumpkin flesh, pureed
2 large onions, finely sliced
4 sticks celery, finely chopped
3 green chillies, finely chopped
4 spring onions, finely chopped
½ cup vegetable oil
1½ litres chicken stock
1 bay leaf, torn
1 tsp ground cumin
small carton of single cream or use milk
Parmesan cheese

 Fry the onions, celery and chillies in the oil, then when the onions are transparent, add the chicken stock, pureed pumpkin, bay leaf and cumin.
Stir well and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 mins. Stir occasionally.
Add the cream and stir in well, then cook for another 5 mins on a very low heat, not allowing the mixture to boil.
Remove from the heat and serve garnished with parsley and freshly grated parmesan cheese.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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