At Sugar & Spice, we’ve been busy getting ready for the return of our limited-edition Pumpkin Spice line of products (available now!). A fabulous blend of cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg, these products are a definite fan favourite, making our shop smell almost as good as a homemade pumpkin pie fresh out of the oven.
And that got us thinking – what’s the deal with pumpkins? Why do people go crazy for pumpkin pies, pumpkin spice lattes, and pumpkin tarts this time of year? And why do we hold them in such high esteem at Thanksgiving?
After all, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Thanksgiving table without something pumpkin-related on it. Yes, they taste and smell delicious but there must be more to it than that. Where did they originate and why is this quintessential association between an orange globular fruit and the beloved Thanksgiving holiday?
Let’s have a look, shall we?
The History of the Pumpkin
One of the first crops grown for human consumption, it’s believed that the first pumpkins originated with the Indigenous people in North America about 9000 years ago. Fun fact – Archaeologists discovered the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds in the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico dating back to 7000-5550 B.C.!
Small in size and hard with a bitter flavour, the pumpkins were grown along river banks next to corn and beans in a companion planting technique known as the “Three Sisters Methods”. The corn acted as the trellis for the beans, the beans kept the stalks stable on windy days while also nourishing the soil, and the pumpkins sheltered the corn’s shallow roots and prevented weeds from taking hold. The fruit was an important food staple among Native Americans, along with other forms of squash, as it was ideal for storing during cold weather and in times of scarcity due to its solid, thick flesh. Uncut pumpkins could be stored for up to three months in a dry, dark, and cool place.
Arriving European settlers, most notably Christopher Columbus, recognized the potential of the pumpkin and are believed to have introduced the squash across the continent.
Pumpkin and the First Thanksgiving
As the autumn harvest season arrived, pumpkins, along with other crops, were celebrated by pilgrims in the New World during a three-day festival period, the first recorded held in the fall of 1621. These festivals were held to express gratitude for the bountiful yield and provided an opportunity for communities to come together in unity, give thanks for the harvest, and share a communal meal. This laid the foundation for the modern Thanksgiving celebration we enjoy today.
Fast forward to the present day and pumpkins are grown in every major part of the world (except Iceland!) for food, livestock feed and ornamental uses like Jack ‘O Lanterns. China produces over 9 million tons worldwide per year. India has 5 million tons, and Ukraine takes the 3rd ranking for producing a million tons annually.
That’s a lot of pumpkins!
Although what we celebrate and how we celebrate Thanksgiving undoubtedly looks very different today than how it did to the pilgrims, the history of pumpkins and their association with Thanksgiving is a testament to the interwoven relationship between culture, agriculture, and tradition.
So this year, as you gather around your kitchen tables covered in delicious pumpkin pies, let’s remember the centuries of history that have shaped this humble gourd into an enduring emblem of gratitude and celebration.
Oh and to come back to why people go crazy for pumpkin pies, pumpkin spice lattes, and pumpkin tarts this time of year? Turns out it’s not just because these seasonal delicacies are irresistible. It’s also because, according to psychologists, we love to be reminded of fall and the warm feelings of family, home and nostalgia the season brings — and our brains associate those warm feelings with this particular flavour.
If that isn’t a good enough excuse to enjoy another helping or cup of your favourite pumpkin treat, we don’t know what is!
Speaking of pumpkin treats, why not whip up a batch of Crystal’s favourite Pumpkin Spice Cookies to enjoy this holiday season?
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
- With your mixer on medium, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Mix in the egg yolk, then vanilla, then pumpkin until well combined.
- Slowly mix in the flour mixture until well combined, with your mixer set to low. Scrape down the paddle and the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and refrigerate the cookie dough for 20 minutes.
- Roll the dough into one-inch-sized balls. Roll in sugar. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet or silicon mat and press down slightly. Space the cookies about two inches apart.
- Bake for 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking. (I baked mine in three batches)
- Let cool on the pan for about two minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.