Yard and Garden: All about Thanksgiving Foods

November 23, 2016, 11:04 am | Richard Jauron, Greg Wallace

AMES, Iowa – Thanksgiving dinner tables offer a variety of foods from a variety of places. What are some of these foods made of and which varieties actually wind up on the plate? Iowa State University Extension and Outreach answers a few of these queries this week.

ISU Extension and Outreach horticulturists can help answer questions about traditional Thanksgiving foods and other holiday season-related inquiries. 


Where are cranberries grown commercially? 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries in the United States. Cranberry production in Wisconsin is located in central and northern parts of the state. The state of Wisconsin produced 4.85 million barrels of cranberries in 2015. (A barrel weighs 100 pounds.) Other 2015 cranberry production totals include Massachusetts (2.35 million barrels), New Jersey (595,000 barrels), Oregon (562,000 barrels) and Washington (198,000 barrels). Cranberries are processed into juice or sauce, dried or sold fresh to consumers.

Are yams another name for sweet potatoes?

In the United States, sweet potatoes often are referred to as “yams.” However, sweet potatoes and yams are different crops. Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are vining plants in the morning glory family. They are believed to be native to Central and South America. The storage roots of sweet potatoes are short, blocky, with tapered ends. They have a smooth, thin skin. There are two main types of sweet potato.

Dry-fleshed types usually have a light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh. When cooked, they are dry and crumbly, much like a baking potato. Moist-fleshed types typically have a dark orange skin, orange flesh, and are moist and sweet when cooked. In the United States, the moist, orange-fleshed types are the most commonly grown sweet potato and often are referred to as “yams.” 

True yams (Dioscorea spp.) are vining plants in the yam family. They are native to Africa and Asia. Yams are long, cylindrical, underground tubers with a rough, scaly skin. Tubers can be several feet long and weigh 50 pounds or more. Yams are not commonly used in the United States. However, they are popular in Latin American countries.

Is canned pumpkin made from a mixture of butternut and other squashes?

The terms pumpkin and squash are rather confusing. Pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes squashes, cantaloupes, cucumbers, watermelons and gourds. A pumpkin is a type of squash. The definition of pumpkin is based on the fruit’s appearance and use rather than a botanical term. A pumpkin is typically round with a smooth, hard, slightly ribbed, deep yellow to orange skin. Pumpkins have culinary and ornamental uses.

Pumpkins are members of four different plant species. Common field pumpkins (such as ‘Howden’) and acorn squash are forms of Cucurbita pepo. Cucurbita moschata includes butternut squash and some pumpkins (such as ‘Dickinson’). Large-fruited winter squash (such as hubbard squash) and pumpkins (such as ‘Big Max’ and ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’) belong to the species Cucurbita maxima. The fourth species (which includes cushaw-type pumpkins) is Cucurbita mixta. The main source of commercial pumpkin puree is from the ‘Dickinson’ pumpkin.  

The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word pepon, which means large melon. This word was adapted to pompon by the French, pumpion by the English and finally to pumpkin by the American colonists.  

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