It’s the first week of November, and we’re at Peak Pumpkin. Jack o’lanterns are passé, but Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and traditional winter-solstice-adjacent holidays will keep pumpkin pie and its infamous espresso-based brethren in style for almost two more months.
The cucurbit family, which encompasses cucumbers, melons, and squashes, is kind of a taxonomic mess with relation to common English names. For instance, watermelon is in genus Citrullus, while most other melons are in genus Cucumis with cucumbers. (This makes sense if you’ve ever scooped out a muskmelon’s cucumber-like central mass of seeds and pulp, or if you consider that both honeydew and cucumber are pretty terrific in a gin cocktail.) The pumpkin you usually get in a can for pie filling is a variety of Cucurbita moschata, which has also been bred into hard winter squashes and something called the “Long Island cheese pumpkin.”; the pumpkin the size of a Chesterfield that took a blue ribbon at your state fair is almost certainly the aptly named C. maxima, a species that includes Hubbard squash and several other domesticates. Meanwhile the species from which domestic jack o’lantern pumpkins are derived, C. pepo, is also the source of gourds, zucchini, and summer squashes — “pepo” is the botanic name for the general structure of cucurbit fruits, a specialized form of berry.