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The biggest berry in the world

Pumpkins are among the oldest crop plants in the world. Prehistoric pumpkinseed finds can be dated to the period around 10,000 BC. In earlier times the seeds, which can be easily stored and are rich in oil and protein, were in particularly great demand. Nowadays the two most important cultivated varieties are the giant pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima) and the common pumpkin (also known as a pie pumpkin; Cucurbita pepo). Pumpkins are the plump cousins of cucumbers and melons and, like them, are fruiting vegetables. From a botanical point of view, the fruit is a type of berry; in fact it is the biggest (hard-peeled) berry in the world. There has been a big increase in the cultivation of edible pumpkins in Germany in recent years, rising from 1,200 ha in 2006 to 2,900 ha in the year 2013, harvesting approximately 59,000 tons.

A wide variety of sizes, colours, shapes
and flavours

Of the 27 varieties of the Cucurbita family, five are of worldwide agricultural significance. There are hundreds of types of the three most important varieties, from small decorative pumpkins weighing 50 g to record-breaking pumpkins weighing more than 900 kg. The many names given to them during the main pumpkin season from late summer to winter are often as varied as their colours are. There are orange and red fruits, as well as green ones and blue-tinged ones and black ones. There are those with stripes, blotches and web-like patterns. Pumpkins can be round, oval, bottle shaped or even the shape of a flying saucer. In addition to smooth surfaces, pumpkins can have a serrated or a wart-like structure. A basic distinction must be drawn between edible and decorative pumpkins. Decorative pumpkins are popular primarily for their attractive appearance and the fact that they can be stored for a very long time. Their flesh is particularly high in toxic, bitter-tasting cucurbitacin, so that they are not suitable for eating.

Culinary uses

The selection of edible pumpkins is formidable. The Japanese squash and butternut squash are particularly well known. The Japanese squash is of a manageable size and has a chestnut-like flavour. It can be stuffed – for example with onions, apples and cured pork, or with red lentils, dried fruit, ginger, chilli and a mixture of eggs and cream. The butternut squash has lots of creamy flesh and a sweetly aromatic, nutty flavour. It is well suited to soups, sauces and casseroles.

 

Source: Harald Seitz, www.aid.de