Long before pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pancakes and, well, pumpkin everything, came the humble orange pumpkin. Here, some fascinating trivia you might not know about fall’s signature vegetable (er, fruit).
1. The Jack-o-Lantern tradition dates back centuries, when people in Ireland decorated turnips and potatoes with scary faces to frighten away a scary character named “Stingy Jack,” who, according to an old myth, roamed the Earth after his death, as the History Channel tells the story. Irish immigrants then brought the practice to the U.S., where it was adapted to the native pumpkins.
2. Pumpkins were first grown in Central America. They’ve grown in North America for 5,000 years, and today, about 95% of the pumpkins processed in the U.S. are grown in Illinois, according to the University of Illinois. Morton, Illinois calls itself the “Pumpkin Capital of the World” (supposedly processing 80% of the world’s canned pumpkin).
3. Though the original Cinderella story dates back to about the 1st century B.C., the detail about the pumpkin turning into a carriage reportedly wasn’t added until 1697, in a French version by Charles Perrault called “Cendrillon.”
4. One cup of mashed pumpkin contains a whopping 245% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin A, plus 19% of your Vitamin C and 8 percent of your iron). That’s a veritable superfood (just not in latte form—pumpkin spice lattes typically don’t include actual pumpkins, only the spice mix).
5. When it comes to baking, 2- to 8-pound varieties are your best bets for flavor and density. Save the big ones for carving.
6. The United States produces more than one billion pounds of pumpkins each year.
7. A pumpkin is technically a fruit, and a member of the gourd family. Their botanical name is Cucurbita maxima, C. moschata, C. argyrosperma, and they require 75 to 100 frost-free days to grow, meaning they need to be planted by late May to early July to be ready in time for Halloween.
8. The Guinness World Record for the Heaviest Pumpkin is currently held by Beni Meier of Switzerland for his 2,323.7-pound pumpkin, presented at a weigh-off in Ludwigsburg, Germany on October 12, 2014.
9. The oldest pumpkin seeds date back 8,000 to 10,000 years.
10. According to the American Pie Council (yup, there is such a thing), pumpkin is America’s second favorite kind of pie. Nineteen percent report preferring apple pie, compared to 13% for pumpkin.