Between the years of 1503 and 1508 in Touraine, France, artist Jean Bourdichon, at the direction of Anne of Brittany, two times queen of France, spent a lot of time sprinkling pumpkin spice in the queen’s prayers. What the queen recruited the artist to do was illustrate Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne, a book filled with prayers, monthly calendars, and religiously themed images.
For the work, the artist focused on painting more than three hundred plant species represented in the Royal Gardens, one example of which may be the first known illustration of the pumpkin, a plant native to Mexico and transported to Europe after the first voyage of Columbus to the New World.
And what that means is that in the course of about sixteen years or so, this one plant, with its basketball fruit, went from unknown to worthy of royal attention half a world away. It’s probably not hard to imagine why.
Pumpkins aren’t exactly hard to notice, and as anyone who has ever allowed a Halloween Jack-o-Lantern to decay in his garden could tell you, they’re certainly not hard to grow. Archaeologists have found evidence of pumpkins as a food source as far back as 7000 BC in Mexico and there is a long history in Native American cultures of using pumpkin seeds medicinally for treatment of parasitic infections and kidney disease. Today they are touted as a sleep aid, heart healthy snack, anti-inflammatory, and cancer-fighting super food.
I don’t know if all those claims can be substantiated. What I do know is that at least in the United States, it’s not fall until every product on the grocery store shelf has been pumpkinized (which I’m confident will soon be a word defined by Miriam-Webster).
Each fall, stores are taken over by the pumpkin and its accompanying spices. No longer is pumpkin relegated to pies and prayer books, with the truly market-savvy adding more inventive (and often revolting) options each year, including: Pumpkin Spice Cheerios, Pumpkin Pie Kit-Kats, Pumpkin Pie Spice Pringles, Pumpkin Spice Chewing Gum, Pumpkin Spice Candy Corn (though to be fair, it is not the pumpkin spice that makes this product revolting), pumpkin spice pasta, liquors, yogurt, pudding, peanut butter, donuts, soaps, and shampoos. And every year I try an embarrassing number of these freshly pumpkinized products. Because everything is better with pumpkin, right?
So I think trend-setter Jean Bourdichon was on to something. He was bold enough to think outside the traditional religious artwork of his day and add to it the one thing that makes everything better. Or worse. But I suppose there’s no way to know until someone pumpkinizes it.
9 thoughts on “The Art of Pumpkinization”
I have friends who count down the days until pumpkin beer arrives. Ugh! I prefer getting my pumpkin in more traditional ways – pie, sweetbreads, and perhaps even a doughnut. Baking a pumpkin/cinnamon combo creates the best aroma on earth!
I actually really like pumpkin, but I do start to find it pretty overwhelming after a while. Pumpkin doughnuts are the best!
I like pumpkin (or any squash) itself, but I HATE anything that has been pumpkinized…probably because I am that rare creature who detests pumpkin pie. This time of year is truly scary for me!
I wouldn’t say I detest pumpkin pie, but I’m not crazy about it. On Thanksgiving I’ll make some brownies so that I have a dessert, too. 🙂
Detest! 😋 I just have a giant mound of whipped cream in the shape of a piece of pie.
This was so interesting!!
Well, thank you!
Fortunately for us, a lot of food DOES taste better when pumpkinized, but I am with you when it comes to candy corn.
There’s pretty much no way to make candy corn palatable in my opinion.