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 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, how small farms and rural communities have been revitalized 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: The Curious History of an American Icon is a smart and lively study of the deep meanings hidden in common things and their power to make profound changes in the world around us.
"A harvest of precise, wide-ranging research, Pumpkin traces the historical roots twining beneath the pumpkin patch and modern farm-stand agriculture."
– John R. Stilgoe, Harvard University
"When you scoop out that October pumpkin, you get lots of seeds, a mountain of pulp, and more than three centuries' worth of jumbo ideas about politics, women, men, modern life, and American identity."
–Jenny Price, author of Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America
"An extraordinary scholar and storyteller, Cindy Ott tracks the culture that altered the very nature of the pumpkin-and in doing so, tells us a revealing story about ourselves. Her book is a new optic on the relation between food, environment, cultures, and markets, and is not to be missed."
–Philip J. Deloria, author of Playing Indian and Indians in Unexpected Places
"From the symbolism of pumpkins in classical and medieval mythology to locavores and harvest festivals, Ott's paean to pumpkins is important, entertaining, and enlightening."
– Warren Belasco, author of Food: The Key Concepts
"Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon shows how a plant that we ignore for most of the year is all the more important to the popular culture of the United States and to the imaginations of its citizens precisely because we pay attention to it so occasionally."
– from the Foreword by William Cronon
"Cindy Ott digs deeply and creatively in furrowing a few familiar and many elusive sources in this major contribution to American agricultural and sociocultural history."
– Michael Kammen, The Journal of American History, Vol. 100(1), 2013
"Her analysis certainly leads to a deeper consideration of this simple vegetable and how it is that Americans may still consider the country a farming nation, although the number of farmers had declined dramatically [...] "
– Rae Katherine Eighmey, Minnesota History, Spring 2013
"After smashing our illusions about the Pilgrims, Ott continues her pumpkin iconoclasm [...] The pumpkin as symbol comes full circle."
– Nina C. Ayoub, The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 2012
"Cindy Ott presents a fascinating study of America's darling squash [...] Her thorough investigation of the renowned autumn icon takes a detailed look into American social and agricultural history."
– Kelly Restuccia, OhRanger!, October 2012a
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Cindy Ott is assistant professor of American Studies at Saint Louis University.