Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Seeds have been found in Mexico dating back to before 5000 BC, but the name is derived from the Greek word "pepon", which means large melon. Native American Indians used pumpkin as a staple in their diets before the pilgrims landed.
Although they are grown all over the world, pumpkins are a very popular crop in the USA, where the flesh and the seeds are used in cooking. They are most popular around the Thanksgiving holiday in November, cooked, puréed, sweetened, spiced and made into a pie.
Before being used in baking, they need to be cooked and puréed, as they are very high in water and the purée will form some of the liquid in the recipe.
Other squashes, such as butternut squash or acorn squash, can be used instead of pumpkin. The purée has a wide variety of uses in cakes, muffins, cookies, breads and cornbreads. Mix the purée with spiced, soft onions and polenta to make a savoury, curried pumpkin cornbread, use with chopped apples in muffins, or add oats, pumpkin purée and pumpkin seeds to a cookie recipe.
A wide variety of cakes can be made by adding, for example, almonds, pecans, chocolate, fruit and spices.
In season: end of September-middle of December
By Fiona Burrell, co-author of Leiths Baking Bible, from the world-famous Leiths School of Food and Wine