Vegetable of the Month - Pumpkin - October

Cyprus pumpkins are a beautiful sight at this time of year and remind that winter is fast approaching.

Archaeologists discovered the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds in the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico and they are believed to have originated in Central America over 7,500 years ago. The first pumpkins were very different to the sweet, bright orange variety we know today, they were small and hard with a bitter flavour. Pre-Columbian natives grew pumpkins for their flesh, but didn’t use the seeds. They were among the first crops grown in North America. Thanks to their solid, thick flesh, pumpkins proved ideal for storing during cold weather and in times of scarcity.

French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence region of North America in 1584 and reported finding “gros melons.” The name was translated into English as “pompions,” which evolved into the modern “pumpkin.”

New-England’s Rarities Discovered, by John Josselyn published in the early 1670’s contained one of the first American pumpkin recipes. The recipe was for a side dish made from diced ripe pumpkin which was cooked in a pot over the course of a day. Once the pumpkin was cooked butter and spices were added, much like the recipes for mashed squash or sweet potatoes we see today. In the 17th century, women challenged themselves in the kitchen by developing unique and tasty new ways to serve pumpkin. Today, the most popular way to prepare pumpkins is pumpkin pie. This which first appeared in the 1800’s when it became stylish to serve sweetened pumpkin dishes during the holiday meal. The earliest sweet pumpkin recipes were made from pumpkin shells that had been scooped out and filled with a ginger-spiced milk, then roasted by the fire.

Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns is a popular Halloween tradition that originated hundreds of years ago in Ireland. Back then, however, jack-o’-lanterns were from turnips or potatoes; when Irish immigrants arrived in America and discovered the pumpkin the Halloween ritual was born. Carved pumpkins on Halloween night are now common throughout the world. 

Pumpkins were used as vessels for the keeping and carriage of water, wine, and oil.

To make them more resistant, they would smear them with terebinth tar (turpentine). Then they would begin to decorate them with various representations. The whole procedure for the decoration of the pumpkins was called “ploumisma”.

What is a pumpkin?

Pumpkins are members of the squash family and are usually large, round and vibrant orange with a slightly ribbed, tough and smooth outer skin. In Cyprus pumpkins are generally pale in coloured and the skins is ribbed rather than smooth. Inside the pumpkin are the seeds and flesh. When cooked, the whole pumpkin is edible – the skin, pulp and seeds – you just need to remove the stringy bits which hold the seeds in place.

Nutritional benefits of pumpkin

Pumpkin is a great source of potassium and beta-carotene, which is a carotenoid that converts to vitamin A. It also contains some minerals including calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins E, C and some B vitamins. It is also low calorie as its 94% water.

80g of pumpkin (roughly 3 heaped tablespoons, diced and cooked) counts as one portion of your five-a-day. 

Skin Health - Pumpkin contains vitamins C and E, as well as beta-carotene, all of which have been found to play an important role in the health of our skin. 

Vitamin C is not naturally made by the body and so it is important we get it from the diet every day, as it plays a part in collagen formation, helps to prevent bruising and helps with wound healing.

Vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant and acts together with vitamin C, helping to protect against sun damage and prevent dryness of the skin. Vitamin A, or beta-carotene, is also involved in skin protection from the sun’s UVB rays and may help protect against sunburn, although sunscreen is still required!

Eye Health - A deficiency of vitamin A has been linked with reduced vision or even blindness. Beta-carotene, as well as vitamins C and E, can help protect eyes and reduce the risk of age-related eye diseases.

Metabolic syndrome is the medical name for a combination of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure which collectively then increases your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

A 2015 study in Japan found that diets high in carotenoids, which are pigments found in fruit and vegetables that give them their orange, yellow and green colours, may help prevent the development of metabolic syndrome.

Pumpkins contain beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A when consumed. Research has demonstrated that vitamin A plays an important role in supporting the immune system, of which around 80% is in the digestive system. Further research suggests that diet, including vitamin A, has a direct effect on immune system function.

There is some evidence to suggest that the antioxidant properties of carotenoids, vitamin A and vitamin E, all of which are found in pumpkin, may protect against breast cancer. There has also been research into the role carotenoids play in reducing lung cancer, but so far this has not proven to be statistically significant.

Adding Pumpkin to your diet

Pumpkin is delicious, versatile and easy to add to your diet. Its sweet flavour makes it a popular ingredient in dishes like custards, pies and pancakes. However, it works just as well in savoury dishes such as roasted vegetables, soups and pastas.

Pumpkins have a very tough skin, so it requires some effort to slice. Once you cut it, scoop out the seeds and any stringy parts, then slice the pumpkin into wedges.

The seeds are also edible and packed with nutrients which offer many other benefits. For instance, pumpkin seeds may improve bladder and heart health 

The easiest way to eat pumpkin is to season it with salt and pepper and roast it in the oven. Many people also enjoy making it into pumpkin soup, especially during winter.

Pumpkins in Cyprus

Traditionally used in desserts and pastries such as Kabak Macuna (Candied Pumpkin Peel), but there is also a famous Cypriot pastry which is delicious and less sweet than many Cypriot desserts

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