Pumpkins and squashes are native to the New World. They have often been confused with gourds which can be traced to the Old World (India). Early references to pumpkins go back only several hundred years when they were called "pompions" (from the Greek pepon, "cooked by the sun"). "Pumpkin" first appeared in the 17th century when the Cinderella fairy tale was written. Today pumpkins can be found well beyond North America. English, French, German and Argentinean cooks all use pumpkin to make various breads, pies, soups and casseroles.
The pumpkin is related to squash, cucumbers, and cantaloupes. It ancestors can be traced to Mexico and go back at least 9000 years. It is known that American Indian tribes grew pumpkins for food long before any European explorers arrived. Columbus carried pumpkin seeds on his return trips to Europe, but the pumpkins were used to feed pigs. Long before the discovery of corn, Native Americans depended on pumpkins to help them through the lengthy winters. Over the centuries, they found many ways to enjoy the sweet inner meat of this nutritious winter squash: baked, boiled, roasted, fried, parched, or dried. They added pumpkin blossoms to soups and stews, turned dried pumpkin pieces into rich flour, and munched the seeds as a tasty snack Although the pumpkin is often grouped into the vegetable family it is technically a fruit. A fruit is defined as the part of the plant that contains the seeds. Do pumpkins have seeds? Yes! So do tomatoes and cucumbers and green peppers.
Although we consider them to be vegetables, they really are fruits. Pumpkins belong to the plant family called gourds. Plants that are gourds grow from vines and have a hard protective shell, such as squash, melons and even cucumbers. A Pilgrim described the hardships of the New Word as follows (1630):
"For pottage and puddings and custard and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnip are common supplies:
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undone"