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A Dozen Pumpkins

I have twelve orange pumpkins in my garden (and a couple of green ones). I didn't even plan to raise pumpkins this year! We had a bit of a warm spell in February, when I noticed there were some pumpkin sprouts in the compost pile, from the seeds of last year's Jack O'Lantern (which came from our garden). I rescued the sprouts and potted them up, keeping them safe and warm til May, then transplanted them into the garden. With that head start, the pumpkin crop is already beyond my wildest dreams. What am I going to do with a dozen pumpkins?

Pumpkins have grown in North and Central America for thousands of years. Native Americans used pumpkins for several types of dishes, such as pumpkin bread, soup, and candy. They dried pumpkin flesh and ground it up to preserve it for later use. They even used dried strips of pumpkin shell to weave into mats. The early settlers, including the Pilgrims, made pumpkin pies by removing the seeds and pouring milk, honey, and spices into a pumpkin, then baking it.

More on pumpkins and what they're for, after the jump.

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My father told me the story of how his mother would pick pumpkin blossoms and serve them, dipped in batter and fried. Their neighbors got wind of this and brought over bags of groceries for the poor starving family that was reduced to eating flowers. Fried Pumpkin Blossoms are actually a delicacy. There isn't much to the flower itself, but it was an excuse to eat fried batter before funnel cakes became popular.
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Pumpkin seeds may be one of the world's healthiest snacks. The components in pumpkin seeds may help prevent arthritis, osteoporosis, and prostate problems. Phytosterols in pumpkin seeds may lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cancer. Besides eating roasted pumpkin seeds as a snack by itself, you can add pumpkin seeds to stir-fried vegetables, top a salad with them, or grind them up and use as a nutritious food additive.
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Pumpkins traveled from America to all parts of the world, where they've become part of other cuisines. Indians make Pumpkin Curries. Pumpkin is a main ingredient in this Fried Ravioli recipe. Thai Pumpkin Soup has some intriguing flavors. You can make a party meal out of a pumpkin, with a bit of time set aside. Mary and Frank made Curried Pumpkin Soup, Stuffed Pumpkin, and Toasted pumpkin Seeds for a group of 12. From one pumpkin.
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You don't have to eat a pumpkin to enjoy it. Growing pumpkins has become a competitive activity. The largest pumpkin ever was grown by Ron Wallace in 2006 and weighted 1,502 pounds! However, this is the type of record that seems to be broken every growing season. Someone may have an even bigger monster pumpkin waiting to be measured this autumn. Award-winning pumpkins don't just happen. The tricks of the trade range from digging in the manure to limiting the vine to one pumpkin to performing first aid on a potential winner. The most I ever coddled my pumpkins is to put some pine needles under them to discourage rot.
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The largest pumpkin pie ever weighed 2020 pounds (after baking). How did they bake it? They built a custom oven just for the event! This pie required 900 pounds of pumpkin flesh. I may make some pies, but only the standard size.
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The first thing many folks think of to do with a pumpkin is to make a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween. The origin of the Jack O' Lantern is an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." The story is somewhat involved, but the upshot is that neither God nor the devil wanted to take Jack after he died, so he must wander the earth with a lantern for eternity. The original lantern was an ember in a carved turnip, but a when immigrants brought the story to America, a pumpkin worked just fine. In modern times, Jack O'Lantern carving has turned into an art form.
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Some strange things have been done with pumpkins in literature. Peter Peter (the pumpkin eater) kept his wife in a pumpkin shell. Cinderella's fairy godmother turned her pumpkin into a coach, but only til midnight. The headless horseman in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow used a Jack O'Lantern as a reasonable facsimile for his missing head. Jack Pumpkinhead was a character in L. Frank Baum's book The Marvelous Land of Oz and some of the following Oz books.

I could just turn over the pumpkins to my children, but only nine of them, because that would bring to life my favorite memnotic device for remembering the planets. "My very educated mother just served us nine pumpkins." It's no longer valid since Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status. There are a lot of things you CAN do with a pumpkin. Considering how many I have, there will be a lot of experimenting in my future.

Update from the comments: Marcus suggested any excess pumpkins should go Punkin Chunkin. Jason! found recipes for Roasted Pumpkin in The Shell (with applesauce), and Baked Stuffed Pumpkin (with lots of fruits). Thanks!

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
iStock
iStock

Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Space
More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in own solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last week, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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