Shedding light on pumpkins

PUBLISHED: 17:35 20 October 2009 | UPDATED: 16:18 20 February 2013

Di d you know that pumpkins weren't the original object to be carved for Halloween? It was the turnip.

Halloween is believed to have originated in Ireland as the pagan harvest festival when bonfires were lit and ghoulish faces carved into turnips to ward off evil spirits. When the Irish emigrated to North America in the mid 1800s,

they had a shortage of turnips

but an abundance of pumpkins

and found them much easier to

carve. The Americans called

them 'Jack O'Lanterns' which are

now an essential part of celebrating

Halloween. And here's a top pumpkin

carving tip - pumpkins are 90 per cent

water so if your carving starts to shrivel

up, soak it in water to regain its shape.

Pumpkins are members of the squash

family and are also related to cucumbers

and melons. As pumpkins contain seeds

they are a fruit not a vegetable. They

were first cultivated in Mexico 9,000

years ago and are now grown on every

continent except Antarctica. When

Christopher Columbus arrived in

America in 1492, pumpkins were being

grown by the native Americans alongside

maize and beans. He took pumpkin

seeds back to Europe where they were

grown and mainly fed to pigs.

Thankfully somewhere along the line

we discovered that pumpkins are very

versatile for cooking and can be used to

make delicious sweet and savoury dishes

including soup,

stew, bread, tarts,

risottos, pies, curries or just roasted in

the oven. Pumpkin seeds are becoming

increasingly popular as a healthy snack as

they are rich in minerals, essential fats

and protein.

When buying for cooking, look out for

smaller pumpkins as they have a more

intense flavour. Choose specimens with

smooth, unblemished flesh and which

feel firm and heavy.

The flesh of a pumpkin has a wealth of

health properties, is rich in vitamin A

and potassium and high in fibre. Across

the ages pumpkins have been used to

treat a variety of health issues: a remedy

for snake bites and burns, a cure for

freckles and as an ingredient for antiwrinkle

cream.

They have anthelmintic properties

meaning they are good for ridding the

body of worms such as tapeworms. Their

zinc content makes them particularly

good for male and female fertility.

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