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Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books) Hardcover – September 13, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"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


"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


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Product Details

  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press (September 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 029599195X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295991955
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #584,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cindy Ott first began to explore the cultural history of pumpkins while working at a friend's fall pumpkin stand in suburban Maryland. As much as she is interested in working in the fields and interviewing farmers and pumpkin festival operators, she is also interested in working in libraries and archives to understand the history of such phenomena. In all of her projects, she looks at how people rely on history and nature to create traditions and the impacts of those traditions on the world around them.

Cindy is an Associate Professor in the American Studies Department at Saint Louis University. Her research and teaching interests have been strongly influenced by her work as a museum curator and public historian. She has organized cultural history projects and art exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution, community development and urban revitalization programs at the University of Pennsylvania and Saint Louis University, and historic preservation projects at the National Park Service. She has also built alliances and partnerships between academia and nonprofit environmental groups as the communications director of Rachel's Network, a women's environmental organization. Cindy is currently a consultant for the National Park Service, assisting national parks to develop or enhance their history programs. She is also the graphics editor of the journal Environmental History and a regular grant review panelist for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By old gray mare on January 21, 2014
Format: Paperback
Normally, I enjoy books on the histories of our foodstuffs. This one, however, I didn't particularly enjoy. Much of the writing is pedantic, tedious and repetitive and I believe the author overstates her case, as almost every chapter reiterates her belief that the pumpkin symbolizes America's "lost" agrarian past and Thomas Jefferson's "nation of yeoman farmers" ideal. But, I must admit, that after I finished the book, I made a pumpkin pie. And for those that think of pumpkin pie as bland, use more cinnamon, ginger and cloves than what the recipes generally call for.

I also was disturbed when the author referred to the opossum as a rodent. Opossums are marsupials -- pouched mammals like kangaroos, not rodents -- which are placental mammals. Am not sure whether the author or the editor needs to bone up on their vertebrate zoology, but glaring errors like this make one wonder what other misconceptions may have crept into a book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. Ring on December 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I guess this was about what I expected. The trouble is, it's a short book that is still twice as long as it needs to be. And half of the book is footnotes. It seemed to run over the same ground quite a bit (e.g.: stressing, through the years, the pumpkin's popular connection to America's agrarian past) and I found myself glazing over the most trivial parts of it. But it did leave me feeling like more of an expert on pumpkins in it's repetition. I'll never look at a pumpkin quite the same way. I'm not sorry I read it, just that it was rather overpriced for what it is.
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Format: Paperback
This is a Weyerhaeuser Environmental Book, which has a lot of prestige. It is a difficult book to describe; it reads as if Ott turned her doctoral dissertation into a book. Some portions sparkle and some are monograph-dull. I am not sure why it is considered environmental, unless the human rural environment is the reason Weyerhaeuser (a major timber producer) added it to the series.

The cultural history of common items can offer insight into culture, which is why, I would guess, most people would read this book. It includes some history of pumpkins, but mostly it is concerned with American social history, a combination of food, farming, icons and such. She describes pumpkins as traditionally food for the poor, and the pumpkin went into decline as the 1800s progressed. The pumpkin has been resurrected so to speak, by Halloween and Thanksgiving, as material for pies and objects symbolizing fall.

Much of the book is concerned with how the holidays changed the status of pumpkins to make it more positive, including how pumpkins help keep a number of small farms afloat. She discusses particular canning firms, and how canned pumpkins became available and then commonly used for pie filling. It is less history of the pumpkin as a food than as the pumpkin as a symbol of things rural and the rural fall--social nostalgia, really. The book could be shorter but as is, it's not long--just that the slow parts make it seem longer. Four stars rather than three because of the offbeat subject. It is more personal that all this might seem, and yes, the book also discusses pie.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Wiley on November 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beautifully written book on the history of pumpkins. I had no idea how fascinating pumpkins could be! I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in America culture.
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