The pumpkin is one of the oldest known vegetables. Although many people use its name to mean any type of winter squash, it only applies to the yellow and orange varieties with a hard grooved rind and orange flesh. They vary in shape from round to oblong and in size from less than 2 kilos to more than 100.
Detail of a 1947 still life by the Portuguese painter Alda Machado Santos (1892-1977)
For Americans the pumpkin is a traditional symbol of Halloween.
To understand this association we must go back to its origins.
Celtic people believed that 31st October was the last day of the year. To celebrate they carried home a torch, symbolizing the New Year, to scare away evil spirits and to light the way for the souls of the dead to return home. Poor people carved lanterns out of turnips and went “souling”- asking for soul cakes in return for saying prayers for the dead.
When Irish immigrants settled in America “souling” became “trick or treat” and pumpkins replaced the old carving of turnips.
The Thanksgiving menu also includes pumpkin in the form of pumpkin pie.
If you are a cheesecake lover here is a recipe just for you:
Base: 2 cups Bolacha Torrada (1 packet), ½ cup melted butter, 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons light brown sugar.
Crush the biscuits and mix all the ingredients together until combined. Press into a greased cake pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then leave to cool slightly.
Filling: 3 packets cream cheese (Philadelphia), 3 eggs, ½ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, 1 cup pumpkin purée (1/2 kg pumpkin), 2 tablespoons grated orange zest.
Boil 1/2 Kg pumpkin cut into chunks. Purée in a blender. Mix the other ingredients. Pour the mixture into the biscuit base and bake for 45 minutes. Chill for at least 12 hours before serving.