Pumpkin (formerly written pompion, from the old French pompon; Gr. ), the plant and fruit of cucurbita pepo, an annual plant of the natural order cucurbitaceoe or gourd family, for the characters of which see Gourd. The genus cucurbita has large yellow flowers, with a bell-shaped or short funnel-formed, five-cleft corolla, its base adherent to the bell-shaped tube of the calyx; the three long, much curved anthers united into a small head; stigmas three, each three-lobed; fruit fleshy, with a firm rind. The pumpkins, the squashes in all their great variety, and the vegetable marrows belong to this genus, in which the species are in great confusion. The term pumpkin is in different parts of the country very loosely applied; in the present article it refers to those varieties of C. pepo which are known in the agriculture of the northern states as pumpkin, leaving the others to be described under Squash. The plant is a vigorous one, often running 12 ft. or more; rough-hairy, and almost prickly; the flower stalks are obtusely angled, and after fruiting have five to eight ridges with deep grooves between; the fruit varies in shape, and is marked with longitudinal broad ribs and furrows; the interior is hollow, and traversed by coarse pulpy threads.
In its most common form the fruit is a little longer than broad, flattened at the ends, and rather regularly ribbed, and averaging about a foot in diameter, though often much larger; the color a rich clear orange yellow. There is much doubt as to the native country of the pumpkin, it being claimed for the Levant and for Astrakhan, while Dr. Gray ("American Journal of Science," 1857) shows that there is good reason for believing it to have been cultivated in this country by the Indians before the coming of the whites. In the earlier agriculture of the country the pumpkin was a more important crop than at present; it was then raised, as it is now to some extent, as a "stolen crop," a few seeds placed at intervals in a field of Indian corn or potatoes often giving, besides the regular crop, a ton of pumpkins, which afforded a food much relished by cattle, and abundant supplies for the table. Before the introduction of the greatly superior squashes, or even the better varieties of the pumpkin, the common field variety was much used as food, not only as the basis of pumpkin pies, but for a table vegetable, as squash is now served; stewed or baked pumpkin (the fruit divided, the seeds and stringy matter removed, and the halves baked) was a very common article of food, and is still preferred by some to the finer substitutes.
For winter use it is cut into thin strips and dried in the sun, or in a warm room. Its use is at present mainly for feeding farm animals, for which purpose the seeds must be removed, as they have a diuretic effect, which is especially undesirable for milking cows. The best variety for table use is the sugar pumpkin, which, though not large, is an abundant bearer; it has a very long stalk, is of a bright orange color, and has a fine-grained, sweet flesh. Another esteemed variety is the cheese pumpkin, so called from its shape; it is large, and of a deep reddish orange color. The long pumpkin is twice as long as broad; the striped is like the common field pumpkin, but marked with alternate bands of green and yellow, while the Nantucket is deep green when ripe, and a little yellowish on the sunny side, while its surface is marked by warty excrescences; this is much esteemed for its good quality and long keeping. The flesh of the pumpkin contains much sugar, and it is said that during the war of independence housekeepers boiled it in water and evaporated the decoction to a sirup, as a substitute for sugar.
Besides the diuretic property already referred to, the seeds are among the most valued anthelmintics for the removal of tapeworm; though this property was ascribed to them a long while ago, they have only recently come into very general use. Dr. Patterson of Philadelphia about 20 years ago published an account of a remarkable cure by their use, followed in an hour and a half by castor oil. The dose of the seeds is two ounces; they are first deprived of their coats, and the kernels beaten in a mortar to a paste, to which water is gradually added.
Field Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo).