HISTORY AND TRADITIONS BEHIND THE HALLOWEEN COSTUME

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pumpkin-varieties

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PUMPKINS AND GOURDS?

There are so many forms and types of gourds, but what are the major differences?   How can I tell what is what?     I’ve discovered a plethora of information while I’ve been researching this topic myself.

October is synonymous with pumpkins, gourds and squash. Throughout the month, they are used for décor, the main ingredient of seasonal dishes and as children’s whimsical canvas for spooky designs. However, did you know pumpkins and gourds, as well as squash, come in more shades of color than orange or yellow?

It’s time to decorate for the season. Pumpkins, squash and gourds are now readily available for the season’s décor. Over the years, I’ve discovered considerable confusion exists when trying to distinguish one from the other. One simple, non-scientific definition I’ve heard is pumpkins are something you carve, squash are something you cook and eat, and gourds are something you look at but don’t eat. The fact is the genetic history of these three items is so intertwined that it’s extremely difficult to tell them apart. All three are fruits of herbaceous vining plants that seem to possess more similarities than differences.

With over 300 varieties of pumpkins, gourds, and squash grown annually, it is amazing to discern the color palette of nature: oranges, greens, yellows, blues, whites, striped, splotched, and spotted. Textures also vary greatly. Due to the close familial orientation of the three, it can often be difficult to tell them apart. All are members of the Cucurbita family, with each variety belonging to a different sub-category. It seems the stem is the primary way to distinguish a pumpkin from the group. If the stem appears woody and hard, it can be deemed a pumpkin.

Those recognized as true pumpkins (including the jack-o-lantern) belong to the Cucurbita pepo species. Varieties in this group have distinctly furrowed woody stems and yellow flowers. The skin of the fruit is hard and usually bright orange. Most pumpkins, acorn squash, summer squash and courgette (zucchini) belong to the C.pepo species. There are even some smaller varieties in this species that are referred to only as gourds.

The maxima species is slightly different from the pepo in that it is less hardy and has a softer, spongy stem. The skin is yellow rather than orange. The maxima species is frequently branded as a squash-type pumpkin or pumpkin-squash. They include winter squashes such as the banana squash and the buttercup squash.   Cucurbita moschata cultivars are generally more tolerant of hot, humid weather than cultivars of C. maxima or C. pepo. Butternut squash is an example of this species.

Gourds vs Pumpkins

Gourds and pumpkins are both bush-like plants which are popularly seen in the northern part of America. These two have almost the same properties and have a maturity period of about 100 to 129 days. As gourds and pumpkins belong to the same family, they do not differ much.

A gourd is mainly used as a vessel or a container at home. Gourds are also used as musical instruments such as drums and stringed instruments. When comparing the two, gourds are mostly ornamental in type. On the contrary, pumpkins are edible and are eaten when ripe.   Yet another difference that can be seen between the two is that gourds can be only dried when mature and pumpkins can be roasted, baked, steamed, or boiled when mature.   Both the gourd and the pumpkin are unique in themselves. During the times of Halloween, pumpkins are used as jack-o’-lanterns at houses. As said earlier, gourds are used as musical instruments as they can vibrate sounds. When comparing gourds and pumpkins, the latter are more often used as table vegetables as they are more edible. As the flesh of a pumpkin is a bit coarse or has a strong flavor, it is more often used as a vegetable after baking.

There are also many differences in the harvesting season of pumpkins and gourds. While pumpkins are harvested once the rinds become hard and when the skin turns orange, gourds are allowed to mature as long as possible. The more they mature, the better they are. But when on the vines, they have to be protected from very cold temperatures.

Some of the differences and similarities between them include: (1) Gourds and pumpkins are both bush-like plants; (2) Gourds are mainly used as vessels or containers at home. Gourds are also used as musical instruments such as drums and a stringed instrument; (3) During Halloween season, pumpkins are used as jack-o’-lanterns at houses; (4) When comparing gourds and pumpkins, the latter are more often used as table vegetables as they are more edible; (5) As the flesh of a pumpkin is a bit coarse or has a strong flavor, it is more often used as a vegetable after baking; (6) While pumpkins are harvested once the rinds become hard and when the skin turns orange, gourds are allowed to mature as long as possible; and (7) Another difference that can be seen between the two is that gourds can be only dried when mature and pumpkins can be roasted, baked, steamed, or boiled when mature.

Yellow summer squash is slender and bright yellow; crookneck squash is similar, but with a hook end and darker yellow coloring. Zucchini squash is oblong and dark green, sometimes with white striping. Gem squash is a small, spherical squash with solid, dark-green coloring. Pattypan squash is mint green in color, resembling a flattened circle with scalloped edges. Spaghetti squash features an oblong shape with yellow to orange rind and yellow or orange flesh that is stringy like spaghetti noodles. Styrian oil pumpkins are largely processed for pumpkin seed oil; they are small and round with yellow-orange and green stripes. A winter squash, acorn squash is acorn-shaped and dark green, sometimes with a touch of orange coloring. Another winter squash, delicata squash, features long fruits with thin green stripes set against a yellow background. Banana squash can be identified by its elongated shape with a slightly tapered tip, yellow-orange flesh and rind color that varies among creamy orange, pink and light blue. Hubbard squash has a rounded teardrop shape, yellow-orange flesh and varieties with rind colors including dark orange and blue-gray. Buttercup squash, enjoyed for the buttery flavor of its yellow-orange flesh, features olive to dark-green skin and a rounded, flat-topped shape. Jarrahdale pumpkin makes an appealing fall decoration with its short, round shape, ribbed rind and color ranging from blue-gray to steel gray.

Butternut squash, a favorite in recipes for the nutty flavor of its bright orange flesh, is cylindrical in shape with a base that is slightly wider than the stem end; color varies from yellow-tan to orange. Dickinson field pumpkin, commonly used for canned pumpkin puree, is tan in color, with a shape that ranges from long and cylindrical to a prolate spheroid — a slightly elongated sphere. Ranging in shape from a flattened sphere to tear-drop, Kentucky field pumpkin has light orange skin and dark orange flesh. Long Island cheese pumpkin, shaped like a cheese wheel, has soft yellow flesh. Tan to pale orange neck pumpkin are bulbous at the base with a narrow, curved neck up to about 18 inches long. Long of Naples squash are usually dark green with light green or pale orange streaks and yellow-orange flesh; they might be curved and cylindrical or feature a bulb at one or both ends.

Cucurbita mixta is less well known than other squash and gourd species, largely because its subspecies were previously classified as C. maschato or C. maximus. The species mostly comprises varieties of cushaw pumpkin, a variety of squash with a vase shape and straight or crooked, elongated neck. As its name suggests, green-striped cushaw has dark green and white stripes. White cushaw is bright white to ivory white in color. Golden cushaw is golden orange in color; color might be solid or striped with ivory white. Seminole pumpkin, native to Florida, is a small, spherical or teardrop-shaped pumpkin. The developing fruit is mottled with white over a dark green to yellow-tan base color.

Kathy Kiefer

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