Every fall, from as early as September, pumpkin flavored everything begins to hit our shelves. We go crazy for our pumpkin spiced lattes, which first arrived at Starbucks in 2003, to pumpkin flavored beers, sweets, teas, and drinks. American families dig their spoons into pumpkin pies after eating their Thanksgiving feasts. People even drive for miles to local pumpkin patches to take pictures and buy some. Kids run around with plastic pumpkins collecting treats and carve faces into pumpkins to decorate their houses. But how exactly did America become so obsessed with this big orange squash?

pie, pumpkin, sweet, cake, pastry
Rebecca Li

During the 1600s, American colonists and Europeans considered pumpkins “food for the rural poor.” They grew in boatloads of large sizes but hardly anyone wanted to eat them. In the mid 19th century, when more people began moving to cities they became nostalgic for the old rural life, romanticizing it in a way it had never been before. Pumpkins became symbols for rural life and farming which represented hard work, independence, and stability.


pumpkin, vegetable, pasture, squash
Dea Uy

A prominent figure in the popularization of eating pumpkin on Thanksgiving was Sarah Josepha Hale. She published Northwood: A Tale of New England in 1827, a cookbook with an entire chapter on pumpkin pie, turkey, and other recipes for the quintessential Thanksgiving feast. She then began a 40-year campaign in an attempt to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. On 1863 Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving an official holiday.


Jack Skellington Jack-o-Lantern

abbydonkrafts on Flickr

Pumpkins also dominate another fall holiday, Halloween. Houses are commonly adorned in pumpkins with carved out faces known as Jack-O-Lanterns. The word Jack-O-Lantern comes from another name meaning, “Will-o’-the-wisp, an unsettling and inexplicable light emanating from a darkened forest or dense swamp.” Jack-O-Lanterns originate from an Irish folklore of a man named Stingy Jack who was banned from both heaven and hell. He wandered the streets with a carved out turnip with burning coal inside. The Irish referred to him as “Jack of the Lantern.” When the Irish immigrated to the United States, they switched over to pumpkins as their fruit of choice. 

The prominence of pumpkins in the fall is a great way to support your local farms while also appreciating its spooky history and sweet fall flavor.