Happy Halloween! One of my favorite holidays, Halloween, elicits fond memories from my childhood and as a parent passing down the holiday’s traditions. Costumes, candy, and creativity go hand-in-hand with this holiday, along with images of ghosts, witches, and vampires. However, perhaps there is no more iconic symbol of Halloween than the jack-o-lantern. Carving pumpkins has always been my favorite Halloween activity, thinking of a creative idea, making it come to fruition as I carve, and then taking it outside and placing a candle inside to set it aglow.
But, how did carving pumpkins become synonymous with Halloween? It turns out that it was a tradition brought to the U.S. by early Irish immigrants. According to Irish folklore, a man named Jack tricked the devil on several occasions. As punishment, upon Jack’s death, his spirit was cursed to roam the earth. The devil gave him a glowing ember, which Jack placed in a carved-out turnip, making a lantern to light his way as his spirit wandered the earth. Hence the origin of the name, jack-o-lantern. In Ireland, turnips would be carved with scary faces, and a piece of burning coal would be placed inside to remember the story and ward off evil spirits. In the U.S., pumpkins were much more readily available than turnips, and so Irish immigrants started using them instead. Eventually, candles replaced the burning piece of coal. How fascinating!
Carving pumpkins has now become more of an entertainment than a way to protect families from evil spirits. However, it is still considered a strong Halloween tradition in many households, mine included. The pumpkin decorating possibilities are endless! Happy, scary, or humorous faces, figures or words, carved or painted, all are fun and acceptable methods of decorating pumpkins to greet and delight trick-or-treaters. I love the way a glowing candle brings the carved creation to life on a dark Halloween night. The following morning, our household has another tradition, donating our carved pumpkins to our local farm animal sanctuary. They are a delectable treat for the rescued pigs that reside there. Watching the pigs delightedly snack on pumpkins is always an enjoyable experience.
Rescued pigs aren’t the only ones that enjoy the taste of pumpkin. Historically, humans have eaten pumpkins long before they were used as jack-o-lanterns. First found in the Americas, Native Americans carried pumpkin seeds with them as a food and medicinal source. Ripening just in time for cooler weather, pumpkins and gourds are a great food option when most other crops have finished for the season. Also, many varieties have a long storage life, making them a great addition to winter menus. Delicious pumpkin recipes abound not just at the Thanksgiving table but throughout the fall and winter seasons. Soups, bread, toasted seeds, casseroles, and pies are just a few of the myriad of recipes that include pumpkin as the main ingredient.
Each October, I enjoy roasting and pureeing sugar pumpkins. The pureed pumpkin can be placed in the freezer for later use in pies, muffins, pancakes, bread, and many other family favorites. The process can be messy but is relatively simple and oh so worth it when you bite into the mouthwatering results.
My love of pumpkins has inspired me to grow them several times in the garden over the years with varying degrees of success. As vining plants, pumpkins like to roam and typically need a lot of space to do so, which I don’t usually have in my garden. The few times I have grown pumpkins, I have chosen smaller, ornamental, or sugar pie varieties and have planted them on the garden’s outskirts. As with most vegetables, there are many varieties to choose from, all the way from the miniature varieties such as Jack-Be-Little, Hooligan, and Gooligan that weigh less than 2 pounds to the Atlantic Giant varieties that can yield pumpkins over 2,000 pounds! There are also many assorted colors, shapes, and even textures to choose from.
It’s been a few years since I’ve grown pumpkins in my garden; squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and powdery mildew squashed my enthusiasm (sorry for the pun, I had too). However, my affinity for these cucurbits has landed them once again on my growing list. Next season, I plan to grow and hopefully harvest fruit from two smaller varieties, Blaze and Kandy Korn. Only time will tell whether I get a good yield, or any yield at all, to grace my holiday table, but I will try my best and enjoy the process. Until then, I’ll enjoy all the traditions and meals that surround pumpkins and dream of next season when I can hopefully grow some of my own. Happy Halloween, Happy Fall, and Happy Pumpkin Time! And that is my little scoop on pumpkins!
Photographs (from top to bottom): Featured image: Carved Smiling Jack-O-Lantern, Spooky Jack-O-Lantern, Assorted Pumpkins and Gourds at Seed Song Farm, Photos 3-7: Prepping and Pureeing Sugar Pie Pumpkins, Homegrown Small Sugar Pumpkins, Homegrown Lil’ Pumpkemon Pumpkins