Facts about pumpkins that you may not have known before

Facts about pumpkins that you may not have known before

SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – If you want a new take on ancient flavors for your Thanksgiving table, pumpkin recipes from ancient Rome and ancient Egypt are delicious, fun to make, and were once used to prevent pregnancy.

Yes. That’s right – to prevent pregnancy.

Pumpkin recipes from modern India and contemporary Native Americans are also interesting ways to add spice and cheer to your holiday table.

But this article is not only about recipes. It’s also the story of how ancient pumpkin seeds helped scientists figure out the approximate date that humans began growing crops in North America.

Take this deep dive with KTAL if you’re ready to explore history in search of ancient pumpkin seeds, recipes that once changed societies, and new ways of cooking ancient fruits.

Mama, where do pumpkins come from?

Pumpkins are ancient and very likely the reason North Americans decided to plant seeds in the ground for the first time about 10,000 years ago.

Pumpkins sit in Alan Mazzotti’s fields on October 26, 2023, in Hudson, Colorado. For some pumpkin growers in states like Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, this year’s pumpkin crop was a reminder of the water challenges hitting agriculture across the Southwest and West as human-caused climate change exacerbates drought and extreme heat. (AP Photo/Brittany Peterson)

It turns out that the oldest pumpkin seeds ever discovered were found by a guy named Kent Flannery in 1964. Flannery was obsessively searching for evidence that would pinpoint the approximate time that humans in North America began to transition from a hunter-gatherer society To an agricultural community.

(Don’t judge Flannery; every one of us has at least one weird obsession.)

Here’s how it happened: It was 1964 and Flannery was hiking in Mexico’s Oaxaca Valley when he found a cave called Juilla Naquitz. Inside the cave he discovered seeds that he suspected were ancient. Flannery tested charcoal from the same layer in which the seeds were found, and carbon dating determined that the seeds were between 8,000 and 10,000 years old.

It’s worth noting that those ancient pumpkins didn’t look much like the spooky lanterns we carve at Halloween or the gorgeous, round orange pumpkins we use for decoration and deliciousness during Thanksgiving. But hell, old fashioned pumpkins are great too.

The food revolution between the old and new worlds

It has been more than 11,000 years since people left pumpkin seeds in a Mexican cave. We are now in the late 15th century, and Christopher Columbus “discovered” America in the same way your little sister “discovered” your toys and took them into her room when you were kids.

That’s a different story, though.

Stick to it traditional Considering modern civilization, we will say that Columbus discovered pumpkins and took the seeds to Europe. But remember, Columbus wasn’t sailing across the blue ocean in 1492 to look for gold and silver. He was looking for a shorter route to reach the spices.

The oldest pumpkin seeds are 10,000 years old and prove that the pumpkin was native to North America, but after Columbus “discovered” the New World in the late 15th century, he brought pumpkin seeds back to the Old World. By the early 16th century, the Old World was experiencing a food revolution as a result of the Columbian Exchange.

But there are ancient recipes for pumpkin from Egypt and Rome, so how does that work?

Pumpkins have families too

Pumpkins belong to a family of North American flowering plants called Cucurbitalaees. Pumpkins have a lot of cousins ​​too, like squash, watermelon, squash, zucchini and cucumbers, which are all cucurbits. They arise from fast-growing vines with five-petaled unisexual flowers that are either yellow or white.

World record-setting butternut squash at the Virginia State Fair on Saturday, September 23 (Photo: Virginia State Fair)

In ancient Rome there were also Cucurbitaleae – fruits such as white cucumbers and watermelons and Cucurbitale – an edible squash. They also had a gourd-like fruit that coiled around itself like a snake.

There were members of the pumpkin family in ancient Rome, but pumpkins were only native to the New World. Pumpkin’s distant cousins ​​are why we find ancient pumpkin recipes in the writings of Marcus Gavius ​​Epicus, a foodie from ancient Rome. Apicus had access to a gourd that evolved in North Africa, the gourd, also known as the bottle gourd.

Meanwhile, in the New World, Cucurbita pepo was growing and eventually became cultivated by humans. So many subdivisions have occurred in the New World that there are now three subspecies.

There are some interesting variations too, such as Cucurbita Melopepo var texana, a variety native to Texas. Cucurbita melapipo var. ozarkana which developed in the Mississippi Valley and Ozark Plateau in places now called Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, and Illinois. Ozarkana They can be found near river banks, gravel bars, in understory forests, along hedgerows, in railway rights-of-way, along roadsides, and can emerge from disturbed land.

Pumpkins and squash were present in the Americas before humans arrived, and no one knows who was the first person to decide to pick one and eat it. But the seeds slowly spread through what is today Mexico to present-day Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and beyond. New varieties formed as seeds spread into new types of environments, forming an ancient family tree that scientists are still trying to understand.

Pumpkin recipes, ancient and modern

We are now in Rome, less than 100 years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Chefs were busy preparing a Roman pumpkin dish for the rich and elite of society. We know that dishes that were made from gourds were similar to and associated with pumpkin because of the work of Apicius.

We do not have exact measurements for Apicius’ recipes. But we do know which ingredients were used to prepare pumpkin dishes for the upper class. It’s not much different from the dishes we order in upscale American restaurants today.

Alexandrine-style pumpkin

Alexandria was once the largest city in the ancient world. Under Roman rule, it became the intellectual center of the Roman Empire. Just as some dishes are distinctly attributed to a particular region today, the same thing happened at that time, and there was a method of cooking pumpkin specific to the city of Alexandria, Egypt.

This is a map locating the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. (AP photo)

To make Alexandrine-style pumpkinWe boil the pumpkin pieces, then squeeze the water from the pieces. Place them in a baking dish and sprinkle with salt, ground pepper, cumin, coriander seeds, green mint and a little laser root.

That’s the thing about Laser Roots, you won’t find it in any grocery store, not even one that smells like incense.

Laserbecium (silphium) was such an amazing plant that it became the main crop in Cyrenaica by the 630s BC. They even put the plant’s image on their coins!

Lasers were used as a spice, perfume, antiseptic, and sedative, and were (drumroll, please) such a popular form of birth control that the plant was overused and extinct.

Some believe that laser may have been a fennel hybrid. But be that as it may, the poor plant was plucked and slapped to death because it flourished in the wild and could not be cultivated by humans.

Back to the recipe:

After adding salt, ground pepper, cumin, coriander seeds, green mint and mock laser root in a bowl, season everything with vinegar. In a separate bowl, add the date wine, ground coconut with honey, more vinegar, and stock to taste, then pour the mixture over the pumpkin. Sprinkle with more ground pepper before serving.

It is not recommended to replace the laser root required in the old recipe with modern contraceptives. Maybe add a few tablespoons of sugar instead?

Pumpkin and chicken

Another ancient Roman pumpkin recipe involves braising pumpkin chunks with chicken and garnishing them with oil, vinegar, hard-skinned peaches, truffle, pepper, caraway, cumin, laser root (sorry), and green herbs like mint, celery, coriander, and penguin. And the Chris.

Sounds good, huh?

In case you are wondering what pennyroyal is, know that modern science says do not use it because it is toxic. But it was used to treat colds and pneumonia, as an insect repellent, and was used to help women start menstruation when they were “late.”

True story.

I recommend leaving the pennyroyal out of the recipe.

Delicious pumpkin

This Native American pumpkin recipe calls for peeling and dicing a small pumpkin or large butternut squash. Then add the chopped green onions, chopped red peppers, and chopped red onions to the skillet with the melted butter and oil. Fried until fragrant. Add the pumpkin pieces and continue frying, adding salt, ground pepper and cinnamon. Add water and leave it until it boils, then reduce the heat until the pumpkin is cooked. Add brown sugar until you get a light syrup around the softened pumpkin. Cool and eat.

Creamy pumpkin curry

If you’re not in the mood for Roman or Native American cooking, turning to chefs in India might be an interesting twist for the holidays.

To make this creamy pumpkin curry, which is absolutely delicious, add chopped onions, chopped carrots, chopped bell peppers, minced ginger and minced garlic to a large frying pan with coconut oil. Fry for five minutes over medium heat, then add cumin, turmeric, curry, pepper, salt and smoked paprika. Stir the mixture and leave it until it boils. Reduce heat and add yellow curry. Simmer until vegetables are tender. Add the pumpkin puree and stir until it thickens. Pour over cooked rice and sprinkle with coriander.

(Aren’t you glad this article wasn’t about pumpkin spice!)

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