Trick or treat? The Halloween pumpkin

Knock! Knock! Trick or treat? Candies, vampires, ghosts, skulls, of course, the freak pumpkins. Botanically pumpkin is the common name of Cucurbita pepo L. in the family of Cucurbitaceae, which has the most species as human food. The genus Cucurbita is native to North America, including northeastern Mexico and the southern United States. Cucurbita fraternal and Cucurbita Texana are the possible progenitors for pumpkins.

How pumpkin became the major role of Halloween, and why carving them into ghosts images? Halloween gets its name from “Hallows’ Evening”. The origin is from the Celtic festival Samhain, which is the celebration of the last day of summer when all ghosts would return. The custom of carving pumpkin traces its history back to an Irish myth about Stingy Jack, who tricked the Devil to gain money. As a punishment, Jack was sentenced to roam the earth for eternity after death, God didn’t allow him to get into heaven while the Devil refused him into hell. Therefore, Irish people carve turnips to frighten away Jack’s wandering soul. Later on, immigrants from Scotland and Ireland brought this holiday to the United States. Then carved pumpkins, known as jack-o’-lanterns are used instead of turnips. It was believed that the jack-o’-lantern is a media or channel for dead people’s souls to travel to the otherworld or returning to visit their home on earth.

There are several edible varieties of Cucurbita pepo.

  • The most popular is pumpkin, Cucurbita pepo var. pepo L. Bailey, a cultivar of creeping plants that produce spherical, oval, or oblate fruit that is rounded or flat at the ends. The flesh turns starchy and sweet when ripe. It can be consumed when ripe and sometimes fodder.
  • Cucurbita pepo var. clypeata Alefield, commonly known as scallop is another edible cultivar. The fruit ranges from flat to almost discoidal with unequal margins that have a semi-shrubby habit. It is always eaten before maturity.
  • Cucurbita pepo var. turbinate Paris, shrubby and creeping with fruit that is obovoid or conical in shape, pointed apex, and longitudinally costate-grooved. The common name is acorn because the tind is soft. Therefore, the fruit can be eaten in the ripe state.
  • A shrubby type variety, which is Cucurbita pepo var. torticollia Alefield is a yellow, golden, or white fruit, which is claviform and curved at the distal or apical end and it has a verrucose rind. It is referred to as crookneck that is eaten unripe because its rind and flesh will become harden when ripe.
  • A shrubby plant with yellow or golden fruit that is very similar to that of Cucurbita pepo var. torticollia is called Cucurbita pepo var. recticollis Pans, which commonly known as straightneck.
  • Cucurbita pepo var. fastigata Paris (vegetable marrow) that has creeper characteristics as a semi shrub. It has a short cylindrical fruit that is slightly broader at the apex. The smooth rind increases its hardness and thickness towards ripening stages whereby the colors vary from cream to dark green.
  • Cocozzele (Cucurbita pepo var. longa Paris) has a cylindrical and long fruit that is eaten in the unripe state.
  • Cucurbita pepo var. cylindrica Paris, that usually referred to as zucchini is the most common group of cultivars. It has a strong affinity with the vegetable marrow. Zucchini is semi-shrubby, and the cylindrical fruit does not broaden and eaten as a “vegetable” in the unripe state.

Cucurbita peto is a creeping plant with a specialized stem, tendril that always reaching out for support or attachment. It is monoecious whereby the male and female flowers bloom separately but on the same plant. Successful pollination with the help from pollinators, the fruit could be variable in size and shape, which can be harvested after two to three months of planting. The fruit is smooth to heavily ebbed that is often verrucose with a rigid skin varying in size and shape that range from light to dark green color peel. However, it has a cream to yellowish or pale orange flesh that is soft and not bitter to fibrous and bitter. The inner part of the fruit is a cavity that has numerous seeds that are narrow, broadly elliptical, or flat in shape. Pumpkin can be stored for as long as six months without major postharvest diseases.

The nutritional values of pumpkin are high with important biologically active components such as polysaccharides, proteins, para-aminobenzoic acid, phenolic compounds, terpenoids, and sterols. The flesh pulp has an antidiabetic effect, and it has active hypoglycemic properties. The downstream of the pumpkin is made through processing technology like hot-air drying, drum drying, microwave drying, or freeze-drying. Drying methods increase the shelf-lives that lower the storage space and lighter the weights for transportation. Meanwhile, the nutritional values retain through the drying procedure. The agricultural residuals from pumpkin harvesting can be utilized to counter animal feed shortage, solving the wastage problem at the same time. The seeds of the pumpkin can be used in animal feeding.

Pumpkin is often consumed as fruit vegetable, made into purees or similar food. It is a great food that is enriched with amino acid and vitamin A as well as high levels of fiber and packed with antioxidants. Pumpkin has low fat and protein-rich seeds. Generally, it can be cooked as breakfast, snacks, entrees, desserts, and beverages. The drying powders of the pumpkin can be added to the bakery. The flesh is a good beta-carotene content that converts to the important antioxidant of vitamin A. It has a moderate content of carbohydrates and minerals. The unripe fruit is always eaten as a boiled vegetable. The ripe fruit can be processed into slightly alcoholic drinks. The seeds are consumed as fried fruit in some areas of Mesoamerica as it is a good source of protein and oil. The seeds are also having great value, which can be consumed with honey to prepare desserts called palanquetas. Oleic acid is the edible oil that can be obtained from pumpkin seeds.

Further readings:

Morton, J. F. (1987). Fruits of warm climates. JF Morton.

Kamarubahrin, A. F., Haris, A. B., Daud, S. N. B. M., Kefeli, Z. B., Ahmad, N. B., Muhamed, N. A. B., & Shukor, S. B. A. (2018). The potential of pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata duschene) as a commercial crop in Malaysia. Pertanika Journal of Scholarly Research Reviews4(3).