Pumpkin is a gourd-like squash of the genus Cucurbita and the family Cucurbitaceae (which also includes gourds). It is a common name of or can refer to cultivars of any one of the following species: Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita moschata.
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are small, flat, green, edible seeds. Most pumpkin seeds are covered by a white husk, although some pumpkin varieties produce seeds without them. Pumpkin seeds are a popular snack that can be found hulled or semi-hulled at most grocery stores, however, roasting pumpkin seeds (usually scooped out of jack-o-lanterns) is a popular Halloween treat. Pumpkin seeds have many health benefits, some of which include a good source of protein, zinc and other vitamins, and are even said to lower cholesterol. One gram of pumpkin seed protein contains as much tryptophan as a full glass of milk.
As one of the most popular crops in the United States, 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced each year. The top pumpkin producing states in the U.S. include Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California. Pumpkins are a warm weather crop that are usually planted in early July. The specific conditions necessary for growing pumpkins require that soil temperatures 3 inches deep are at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and soil that holds water well. Pumpkin crops may suffer if there is a lack of water or due to cold temperatures (in this case, below 65 degrees; frost can be detrimental), and sandy soil or soil with poor water filtration. Pumpkins are, however, rather hardy and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines to replace what was removed.
Pumpkins are commonly carved into decorative lanterns called jack-o'-lanterns for the Halloween season in North America. Throughout Britain and Ireland, there is a long tradition of carving lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip, mangelwurzel, or swede. But not until 1837 does jack-o'-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern, and the carved lantern does not become associated specifically with Halloween until 1866. Significantly, both occurred not in Britain or Ireland, but in North America.
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