Botanical name: Cucurbita maxima duchesne e Cucurbita moscata
The pumpkin is a plant belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family: a climber and a monoecious plant with large leaves and petioles covered with a light hair and beautiful large and yellow flowers.
Origins and history
The origin is ambiguous. Surely ancient peoples such as the Egyptians and the American Indians cultivated it, and it is certain that the Romans knew and discussed it: Dioscorides and Pliny defined it "refreshment of human life, the balm of troubles"; Martial talks about the omnipresence of this vegetable on Roman tables, as food and as waterproof containers.
It is generally believed, based on the finds in Mexico of seeds of this curious vegetable dating back to 7000 BC, that it is native to Central America. It arrived in Europe after the discovery of America.
The most common genus "cucurbita" is divided into:
"pepo": green zucchini that are eaten unripe;
"maxima": the classic orange, sweet and pulpy, that are eaten ripe;
"moschata": pear-shaped, green at the base and yellowish at the tip, with slightly more fibrous pulp;
"melanosperm": whose pulp is cooked and grated off the skin it has the appearance of spaghetti;
the "lagenaria" is, on the other hand, the elongated and ornamental one, with an extremely hard and almost fruitless skin.
Nutritional and beneficial properties of pumpkin
Pumpkin is an elixir for our body, rich in therapeutic and nutritional properties. It is rich in beta-carotene which fights cellular aging and free radicals. Contains "good fats" such as Omega 3 which, by reducing cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack.
The richness of water and fiber benefits the intestine, rebalancing the bacterial flora. The fibers satiate and lower the absorption of sugars, making it ideal for diabetics or for those on a low-calorie diet. Water fights water retention and helps deflate.
Among the mineral salts, magnesium which is a natural muscle relaxant helps relieve psychic and physical stress. It contains amino acids, including "tryptophan" which, by producing serotonin, therefore helps to fight insomnia, anxious and depressive states. The "cucurbitine" is an amino acid present above all in the seeds: it makes them antiparasitic and vermifuge and they help to fight intestinal and urinary tract disorders and skin inflammations.
T and K vitamins stimulate metabolism and blood clotting respectively.
Use of pumpkin in cooking
It is an ideal food for diabetics, as studies have shown a "hypoglycemic" action, stimulating a greater production of insulin by the pancreas. It has few calories, is rich in carbohydrates and is genuine because it cannot be attacked by parasites, thanks to the protection of the thick skin.
Virtually everything is eaten of this juicy vegetable: pulp, leaves and seeds. With the leaves you can make fresh salads or they can be fried; the seeds washed and dried in the oven, slightly salted, are a delicious snack.
There are many imaginative recipes that concern it, without weighing it down with added fats. Perfect to cook in the oven: with a drizzle of oil and salt, or au gratin. In the latter case, a "gratin" is prepared with breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, parmesan and capers, to give a contrasting salty note.
It is a vegetable allied to beauty. By mixing the puree with coconut milk (and left to infuse for 24 hours), it can be applied to the skin for a quarter of an hour and then rinsed: the antioxidant power of beta-carotene, together with vitamins, makes the skin firmer and young. An excellent mask for dry hair (to be kept for half an hour on dry hair) is obtained by mixing the pulp with two tablespoons of honey and four of yogurt.
The cucurbit is a food so appreciated that it was the subject of the famous painting "Vertumnus" by Giuseppe Arcimboldi, which portrayed Rudolph II covered with every variety of this vegetable.
In the Celtic world, the feast of "Samhain", between October 31 and November 1, was a propitiatory feast where all the lights went out except the fires of the druids. From here it is thought that the festival of "Halloween" derives, when a pumpkin with ghostly and illuminated features is carved, the "jack o'lantern", to keep the souls of the wandering dead away on All Saints' Day.
In ancient times, seeds were everywhere a symbol of the resurrection of the dead: in Germany for example, in some tombs, these large vegetables were found, together with walnuts and hazelnuts, considered a means for ascent to heaven.