Thursday, 29 October 2009

Pumpkins in France

France is the home of the Cinderella” Pumpkin - “C. maxima “Rouge Vif D’Etampes” (c 1800) – which has impressive flattened, dark orange-red fruit. The word "pumpkin" appeared in the 17th century shortly before Perrault wrote his tale of Cinderella but originally they were called Pompion in France which seems to have derived from "pepon", the Greek word for “sun ripened”.

Pumpkins have been in cultivation for thousands of years. Nine thousand year old seeds found in caves in north east Mexico indicate that pumpkins originated in Central America. Paleobotanists from the Smithsonian have identified it as the first vegetable cultivated by humans- grown over 10,000 years ago. There is evidence that edible squashes were grown in Africa, India and China from the 6th century AD, but they didn't make it to Europe until the 16th century, when they were brought back from the first journeys to the New World. Exotic and sweet tasting, pumpkins became very fashionable in Europe. They were stuffed with apples and sweet herbs, and then baked. An early incarnation of pumpkin pie was made by frying the flesh with apples and herbs, mixing it with sugar and egg, and then baking it with a crust topping.

The story of pumpkins is not complete, of course, without a mention of their starring rôle in Halloween celebrations. Early Irish immigrants to America found the pumpkin to be superior lantern making material to their traditional swede or beetroot, and the pumpkin has been a defining symbol of Halloween since the 1800s.

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