Pumpkin: The Curious History of An American Icon

Why do so many Americans drive for miles each autumn to buy a vegetable that they are unlikely to eat? While most people around the world eat pumpkin throughout the year, North Americans reserve it for holiday pies and other desserts that celebrate the harvest season and the rural past. They decorate the front of their houses with pumpkins every autumn and welcome Halloween trick-or-treaters with elaborately carved jack-o’-lanterns. Towns hold annual pumpkin festivals featuring giant pumpkins and carving contests, even though few have any historic ties to the crop.

In this fascinating cultural and natural history, Cindy Ott tells the story of the pumpkin. Beginning with the myth of the first Thanksgiving, she shows how Americans have used the pumpkin to fulfill their desire to maintain connections to nature and to the family farm of lore, and, ironically, have revitalized small farms and rural communities in the process. And while the pumpkin has inspired American myths and traditions, the pumpkin itself has changed because of the ways people have perceived, valued, and used it.

Pumpkin is a smart and lively study of the deep stories hidden in common, everyday things and the power of those things to make profound changes in the world around us.

Pumpkin in the News:

Read: Time Magazine published a terrific story about Pumpkin to celebrate the start of the 2017 autumn season.  Read the online the version here or see the print version in the October 2, 2017 issue of Time Magazine.

Listen: Cindy joined Roz O’Hearn from Libby’s on NPR’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show from WAMU in Washington, DC. Listen to the podcast from October 14, 2015.

Read: “Haters Call Pumpkin-Spice Craze an ‘Epidemic’: In Beer, Hummus and Dog Food, No Dodging the Taste of the Season” in The Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2014.

Listen: Evan Kleiman’s Good Food radio show broadcast from KCRW in Los Angeles on October 3, 2015

Listen: Thanksgiving Day BBC World Business Report interview with Cindy Ott from November 27, 2014 

Read: Michael Kammen’s review of Pumpkin in the Journal of American History

Barnes and Noble Featured Book in fall 2013

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