The Curious History of an American Icon

Cindy Ott
Foreword by William Cronon

  • Published: 2012. Paperback 2013
  • Subject Listing: History / Environmental History; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 336 pp., 34 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

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 fulfull 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 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.

Visit the author's website for more information:
Cindy Ott is assistant professor of American studies at Saint Louis University.

"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

"An original, carefully researched, engagingly written, even playful and witty foray into the exploding field of food history by an up-and-coming star in the field. How appropriate that so delightful a vegetable has an equally delightful book to pay it tribute."
-William Cronon, from the Foreword

Foreword Not by Bread Alone / William Cronon


1. Corn, Beans, and Just Another Squash 10,000 B.C.E. to 1600
2. "The Times Wherein Old Pompion Was a Saint" From Pumpkin Beer to Pumpkin Pie, 1600 to 1799
3. Thoreau Sits on a Pumpkin The Making of a Rural New England Icon, 1800 to 1860
4. "Wonderfully Grand and Colossal" The Pumpkin and the Nation, 1861 to 1899
5. Jack-o'-Lantern Smiles Americans Celebrate the Fall Harvest with Pumpkins, 1900 to 1945
6. Atlantic Giants to Jack-Be-Littles The Changing Nature of Pumpkins, 1946 to the Present
7. Pulling Up a Pig Sty to Put in a Pumpkin Patch The Changing Nature of American Rural Economies, 1946 to the Present


"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 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

"If you're interested in taking a deeper look into the rich history of pumpkins, you will enjoy Cindy Ott's Pumpkin. . . It's definitely worth a read. Next time you bake a homemade pumpkin pie, you can serve it with a slice of history as well."
-Tori Avey, The History Kitchen, November 14 2013

"There is much treasure to be mined from this engaging work of nonfiction, so carve out some reading time, and enjoy a pumpkin-tastic narrative."
-Jan Johnson, The Columbian, October 13 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

"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 2012

"Ott reexamines American history through the lens of the pumpkin. It is an undertaking that is both intellectual and fun."
-Garry Stephenson, Oregon Historical Quarterly