It’s hard to imagine Fall without pumpkin pie and Jack o’ Lanterns. Pumpkins have almost become a symbol for Fall. It is believed the iconic winter squash originated in Central America. The oldest pumpkin seeds ever discovered were found in Mexico and have been dated at somewhere between 7000 and 5500 B.C. These ancient seeds grew a very different pumpkin than our modern well-loved squash. The original pumpkins were harder and lot smaller with a bitter flavor. Columbian Native Americans domesticated pumpkins, making pumpkins one of the first wild plants to be grown as a crop for human consumption in America.
Today pumpkin is grown on every continent except for Antarctica. Over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin is produced every year in the United States alone. Today over 45 different varieties of the squash are grown.
Pumpkins not only are extremely nutritious they are also very versatile. It’s no wonder why Native Americans and early settlers grew them. They could be made into stew, soup, pie, puddings and more. They were also easy to store to have in the winter months or when food was scarce due to their hard tough skins.
Around the 1800s pumpkins also began to be used for their decorative qualities. It was in the early 1800s that pumpkins were first carved into jack o’ lanterns. Early Irish settlers brought the tradition of carving jack o’ lanterns for Halloween to the United States. Originally jack o’ lanterns were carved into turnips or potatoes. But upon reaching the U.S. they discovered that pumpkins were more available and easier to carve. According to Irish tradition the purpose of the jack o’ lantern was to scare away any evil spirits that might be lurking around your house. The Irish would place the potatoes, turnips, or potatoes carved with scary faces by their doors and windows to keep the spirits away. In 1819, Washington Irving wrote of a mysterious jack-o’- lantern in his story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which many believe is another factor that led to the popular practice of craving pumpkins for Halloween.
The pumpkin also became further associated with Fall in January of 2003 when Starbucks began developing their famous pumpkin spice latte. The company was encouraged by the success of their winter seasonal drinks like their popular peppermint mocha. After testing it and several other products with different flavors pumpkin spice came out on top. When it was first introduced in the Fall of 2003 it was so popular that Starbucks struggled to keep up with the demand. Today 17 years later Starbucks still sells about 20 million pumpkin spice lattes every year.
The Pumpkin Spice latte created a huge trend and other companies soon started to offer pumpkin spice products. The trend has grown over the years and today you can almost find pumpkin spice everything. From Chapstick to peanut butter to spam, you’ll probably find some version of this seasonal flavor.