It’s that time of year again, when the markets and shops are full of pumpkins. Did you know that traditionally turnips were carved to make lanterns? It was only when people from England and Ireland went to America in the 1800’s, that they started carving pumpkins instead. Read more about Halloween history on the English Heritage website.
Are pumpkins a fruit or veg?
Although usually found in the veg section of the supermarket, pumpkins are biologically a fruit. Tomatoes are another fruit that most people think of as a vegetable. So what makes a fruit a fruit? The Encyclopedia Brittanica definition of a fruit is ‘the fleshy or dry ripened ovary of a flowering plant, enclosing the seed or seeds’. This means that beans and cucumbers are also fruits not veg.
Pumpkins are an example of a non-climacteric fruit. This means they don’t ripen after picking and should be left to ripen on the vine. Other examples of non-climacteric fruits are grapes, raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, melon and citrus fruits. This means that rather than ripening at home, they will just start to rot and so should be eaten as soon as possible after purchase or harvest.
I discovered this with a pineapple recently. I wasn’t sure if it was ripe and left it for a few days in a warm kitchen. I didn’t realise it was slowly rotting and caught it just in time, albeit slightly fizzy, as it had started to ferment.
Climacteric fruits like apples, bananas, avocados, pears, peaches and plums ripen after picking. So, if you discover the pears you bought are rock solid, don’t worry you can ripen them at home on a sunny windowsill.
How to store pumpkins
Even though pumpkins won’t ripen after harvesting, they will store for quite a while in the right conditions. Make sure the pumpkins you plan to store are in good condition, without bruises or damage to the skin. Sunlight and moisture will make them rot faster, so store in a dark, dry, frost free space. If you don’t have time to turn the flesh from your pumpkin into a delicious recipe, don’t worry, pumpkin freezes well. Just pop it diced into freezer bags or containers and it’s ready when you want to make a warming pumpkin soup.
Saving pumpkin seeds
As they are a fruit, you will find your pumpkin is full of seeds when you cut it open. Instead of throwing them away or composting them, why not save them to grow next year, or take to a seed swap.
To save the seeds, cut a circle around the stem to take the top off the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Give them a wash to remove as much of the orange pulp as possible. Lay the seeds out individually on a paper towel and leave them to dry for about a week. You’ll have far more than you need, so choose the largest ones without any damage. Once the seeds are fully dry, store them in an envelope ready for sowing in spring.
When not to save pumpkin seeds
Pumpkins and all types of squash will cross pollinate and so if you grow more than one type in your garden, it might not be a good idea to save your own seed. Rather than creating an amazing new pumpkin variety, the resulting plants often produce inedible hard fruits. In this case, you are probably better off roasting the seeds and eating them instead – they are full of fibre, vitamins and minerals and make a great snack. You can also use them to garnish soups or salads, add them to smoothies and even make pesto with this recipe from The Spruce Eats. Follow the BBC Good Food guide on how to roast pumpkin seeds.
Oxfordshire Pumpkin Festival
Good Food Oxfordshire are running their ninth annual Oxfordshire Pumpkin Festival, which will take place from Friday 21st October to Sunday 6th November 2022. See the full programme and find our more here.
If you have a go at saving your own seed, do let us know if they germinate successfully in spring (email@example.com). If you have any more tips we can share to help people make the most of their pumpkins, we’d love to hear from you!