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Pumpkins: Not Just for Halloween

I’m Faith Lapidus with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Many Americans celebrated Halloween on Monday by placing pumpkins outside their homes. A Halloween tradition is to cut a face into the big, round squash.

Pumpkins are also an important part of the Thanksgiving holiday in late November. Tradition says early settlers ate pumpkin pie, or something similar to it, with the Native Americans during the first celebration.

Pumpkins are members of the gourd family. They are related to melons, cucumbers and squashes. They are, like all of their relatives, fruit, not vegetables. Pumpkins have firm flesh, seeds in the center and a shell that is usually orange. And they contain more vitamin A than almost any other fruit.

Pumpkins have been grown for thousands of years in North and Central America. They have been grown for so long, in fact, it is unclear what wild relative the plant has. Pumpkins grow on vines or bushes. Most pumpkins weigh a few kilograms, but some have reached well over four hundred fifty kilograms.

Pumpkin flowers are usually fertilized by bees. The insects carry reproductive material called pollen from the male to the female flowers. No fruit will grow if the female flower is not pollinated at the right time.

Closely related squashes and gourds can also fertilize pumpkins. This cross-pollination will show itself not in the current year’s pumpkins, but in seeds grown the following year.

Pumpkin is used in pies, breads, cakes and other baked goods. Baked pumpkin seeds are also a popular food. Pumpkin filling for pies is produced industrially.

Pumpkins are very low in acid, unlike many fruits. This makes canned pumpkin a place where the bacteria that causes botulism food poisoning can grow. For this reason, experts say it is not a good idea to can crushed pumpkin at home. Whole pumpkins, however, store well in cool, dark places for weeks.

Less than one percent of the American pumpkin supply is imported or exported. Most pumpkins are used in the states where they are grown. Prices can be very different from place to place.

American farmers grew over four hundred fifty million kilograms of pumpkins last year. The crop was valued at about one hundred million dollars.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. Our reports are online at I'm Faith Lapidus.