Pumpkin Power!

pumpkins1Halloween just wouldn’t be Halloween without pumpkins. Carved or uncarved, they make great decorations, and even better pies, stews, and soups. Pumpkins also have an interesting and unique history.

Pumpkins arrived on the scene between 7,000 and 5,550 BC in Mexico. These early varieties bore more resemblance to gourds or squash than the creased orange Jack-o-lanterns we’ve come to know and love. Their hard skin made them ideal for storing, a fact that was not lost on Native Americans. They were grown along river banks with sunflowers and beans; and, when corn cultivation began years later, in concert with squash and corn using the ‘Three Sisters’ method.

Whether roasted over campfires, baked, parched, boiled, or dried, pumpkins were prepared in a variety of ways. Their seeds were eaten and used as medicine. Dried pumpkin was sometimes used as a flour, and their shells used as bowls to store grain, beans, and seeds. Strips of dried pumpkin were sometimes even woven into mats!

Pilgrims are responsible for the first pumpkin pie, but not the flat-crusted variety we’re used to. After cutting off the top and scooping out the seeds, they would fill the cavity with cream, honey, eggs, and spices, and then, with top reattached, bury the entire pumpkin in the hot ashes of a fire.

pumpkin2No one really knows just how pumpkin carving began, but there are theories. Early Jack-o-lanterns made from turnips and potatoes were used in Celtic celebrations; these contained pieces of lit coal. Europeans who arrived in America noticed that the pumpkin made a good Jack-o-lantern, and the tradition was born.

By | October 30th, 2015|News|0 Comments

Why Do Leaves Change Color?

maple leafAutumn is a magical time of year. The cooler weather, the smell of campfire, and the changing leaves. If you have the good fortune to live in the Northeast, the changing foliage can be quite dramatic indeed. But just why do leaves change color? What natural forces are at play here?

There are three main factors that determine leaf color change: pigmentation, length of night, and weather. Of these, changes in length of night are the most consequential. As daylight wanes, biochemical processes within the leaves are initiated, resulting in a shift from green pigmentation, to browns, yellows, oranges, and reds. Once the nighttime-length threshold is crossed for any particular given species of tree, the autumnal display begins.

Chlorophyll, the biomolecule that allows plants to absorb energy from sunlight, lends leaves their green color. Throughout the summer, when sunlight is plentiful, chlorophyll is the dominant pigment. As autumn approaches and chlorophyll production slows, however, other pigments—carotenoids and anthocyanins—begin to appear. Carotenoids are responsible for the yellow, orange, and brown colors in carrots, corn, and daffodils; and anthocyanins give color to things like cranberries, red apples, blueberries, cherries, and plums. But while carotenoids are present all through the growing season, anthocyanins are only produced in autumn, in response to excess sugar build-up within leaves. This sugar accrual is due to the gradual sealing off of the veins leading into the leaf; once the veins are fully sealed, the leaf breaks away and falls to the ground.

fall foliageThough peak fall foliage varies from year to year, it generally begins in late September in New England, and moves southward, reaching the Smoky Mountains by early November.

By | October 16th, 2015|News|0 Comments

Kale: So Much More than Just a Trend

kaleLove it or hate it, kale is huge. Though recent articles tote the end of the kale craze, the reality is that the beloved green remains extremely popular. From its Greek and Roman origins to its modern proliferation, kale is one of the most enduring, healthy, easy-to-grow, and delicious vegetables of all times. And, not surprisingly, it has a fascinating history.

Fourth Century Greeks cultivated curly and flat-leaved varieties, later referred to by the Romans as ‘Sabellian kale’, the ancestor of modern strains. Throughout the Middle Ages, kale was one of Europe’s most popular vegetables. Later, during World War II, kale cultivation was encouraged in the UK as part of the war effort.

Along with cabbage, kale was assumed by the Irish to possess fortune-telling power. Young people used the green to judge the nature of their future spouses: a bitter stalk meant a bitter mate, a lot of dirt clinging to the root meant a wealthy husband or wife. “Kale-Pulling” rituals were especially popular on Halloween, when it was believed the plant’s prophetic powers were more potent.

kale 2The year 2000 saw the birth of the current kale craze. It started when Vermont-based artist, Bo Muller-Moore created the now-famous “Eat More Kale” t-shirt in an effort to help a friend move a bumper harvest of the crop. The rise of CSAs also helped, as did celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Salma Hayek, and Demi Moore, who used kale in juice cleanses. Most recently, McDonald’s Canada incorporated a kale salad with their traditional menu of hamburgers and French fries.

Part of kale’s appeal is its nutritional payload: one cup of boiled kale is packed with vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potentially cancer-fighting isothiocynates and anti-inflammatory flavonoids. Kale is also an excellent source of manganese, copper, Vitamin B6, calcium, and fiber.


By | October 2nd, 2015|News|0 Comments