Pumpkins were grown in South America over 8,000 years ago and were a staple food in man’s nutrition. Although Christopher Columbus brought pumpkins to Europe towards the end of the 15th century, it was the Portuguese who helped spread pumpkins around the world, by cultivating them in their commercial projects in Africa, China and Japan. At that time, although Europeans were fascinated by the shapes and colours of pumpkins, they rarely grew or cooked them. Eating pumpkin only became popular in Europe during the 19th century and from then on cultivation of pumpkins developed in most parts of Europe and in the USA, where they became the emblem of Halloween.
Pumpkins are relatively easy to grow, sown in the summer and harvested in the autumn. The most common varieties farmed in Europe are of the Cucurbitceae family which also includes butternut squash, marrows and gourds. When introduced in European cuisine, they replaced or imitated the flavours of already popular foodstuffs eaten since ancient history such as calabashes, gourds, chestnuts and hazelnuts.