BOTANICAL NAME: Cucurbita maxima. This translates from Latin to largest (maxima) gourd (cucurbita).
ORIGIN: From the Andean valleys and northern Argentina.
DESCRIPTION: This group is the most vigorous of all the Cucurbits, with very long vines and large round leaves that have hairy stems. The stems of the fruits are round, thick and corky. The seeds are thick, yellowish and have a cellophane-like coating.
The group includes Buttercup, Banana, Big Max, Turban, Hubbards, Queensland Blue and Triamble. They are often called winter squash, because the fruits are harvested fully mature and eaten into the winter months (as opposed to summer squash which is usually eaten young during the growing season).
CULTIVATION: Pumpkin seeds can be planted directly into hills of rich compost. This can be done from spring through to summer. The vines have long shallow roots that feed the plant for a long growing season.
SAVING THE SEEDS: Isolation distance is 400 metres and hand pollination is necessary if there are two varieties growing in proximity. If your pumpkin is the only C. maxima in the neighbourhood, then all the seed inside the cavity would come true at next season’s planting. All the same, roguing off-type vines before they flower, to prevent pollen exchange between true-to-type and poor vines, keeps the variety in top shape.
Allow a few extra weeks after picking for the seeds to mature inside the fruit. Scoop them out, wash, dry and label. Hang them on a line in an envelope for further drying for about a week. Then stash them away in a tin until needed, along with all necessary information about their name, origin, planting date, and any other pertinent details.
STORAGE: Seeds last three to ten years if stored in an environment that is dry and of an even temperature. There are about four seeds to the gram.
USE: The shoots and small leaves are tasty when cooked in coconut milk, as they do in Papua New Guinea where the dish is called ‘pumpkin tops’.
Pumpkin had the reputation for being a cure for tapeworms. In fact, it involved fasting for a few days and then breaking the fast with pumpkin seeds, in order to expel the long worm. Pumpkin seeds are also said to help with bladder and prostate problems.
Even if you don’t have a medical need for them, dried pumpkin seeds/pepitas are a delicious snack. There are varieties of pumpkin grown specifically for their seeds, such as Styrian.
To make pepitas, cut into the pumpkin and place all of the seeds in a bowl. Rinse the seeds and then spread them onto a baking pan, leaving them until they’re dry. You can then drizzle them with olive oil and salt, and bake them in the oven (set at 140 °C); they’re ready when they become golden brown.
Taken from The Seed Savers’ Handbook by Jude and Michel Fanton (Seed Savers’ Network 1993)