Pumpkins Pumpkins Pumpkins!

Jenna Maxwell
By Jenna Maxwell

Pumpkins on the Pier9_New England Fall Events_SQ.jpgWhen you think of Halloween, what is the very first thing that comes to come to mind? If you immediately thought of a smiling Jack-O-Lantern or pumpkin, you wouldn’t be alone. It happens every year about this time. We all begin to see the world through orange colored glasses as visions of pumpkins dance in our heads. Stacks of pumpkins appear in the supermarkets and at local patches throughout the community. Pumpkin baked goods appear at the bakery. Walk into any coffee shop, and the fragrant aroma of pumpkin lattes wafts through the air. Let’s face it, Halloween and pumpkins go hand in hand, but there is a lot more to the pumpkin than the iconic smiling Jack O Lantern we’ve come to love.

Once Upon a Turnip

Centuries ago, the Celts living in Ireland were a pretty superstitious bunch. During harvest season, these folks had a big celebration known as Samhain. Samhain is thought to be the ancient precursor to All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween.

During the ancient festival of Samhain, the local villagers would light huge bonfires while feasting and celebrating. These people of old believed very firmly that during Samhain, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was lifted, and the spirits of the dead were able to roam freely amongst the living.

Jack-o-lanterns_Halloween New England.jpgBecause the superstitious people feared that there might be some evil, malevolent spirits coming to visit, they took whatever precautions they could to avert any frightening encounters with evil spirits. Wearing scary costumes was one strategy—it was thought that if they appeared “dead” too, the souls of the deceased would leave them alone. Another approach used to ward off evil spirits was to create a rudimentary lantern out of a turnip with a terrifying face carved into the flesh. When the lantern was lit, it produced a very eerie glow that would hopefully keep any evil spirits bent on misdoings away. A tradition was born! 

When Irish immigrants came to America, they brought this Halloween lantern tradition with them. Turnips were not as plentiful in America, but there was something even better to use for their traditional Halloween lanterns—the pumpkin!

Pumpkin Trivia and Fun Facts

• Believe it or not, the pumpkin is considered a fruit. This brightly colored gourd is often treated as a vegetable although it comes from the same family of garden favorites as cucumbers, zucchini, and watermelons.

Portsmouth Pumpkins.jpg• The pumpkin is indigenous to North America. Pumpkin seeds from as far back as 7000 to 5500 BC have been discovered in Mexico. Today, pumpkins are grown on six continents.

• The word “pumpkin” comes from the Greek word, pepon, which means “large melon.”

• All giant pumpkins are very likely related and descend from the same seeds. At the turn of the century, a man named William Warnock created a very evolved pumpkin seed that grew pumpkins of massive size and most of the monster size pumpkins grown today descend from these original seeds. During the fall season, it’s still very common for folks to attempt to grow huge, record-breaking sized pumpkins competitively. In 2016, the world’s largest pumpkin was grown in Belgium, weighing in at a record 2624 pounds!

• Pumpkin is very healthy to eat and is loaded with all sorts of nutrients, including Vitamin A, potassium and fiber. If you enjoy pumpkin seeds, they are a good source of protein!

• More than one billion pounds of pumpkin are produced annually in the United States, most of which is processed with only a small percentage of pumpkins being grown for ornamental use.

Pumpkins closeup_web.jpg• The best time to plant pumpkin seeds is in late May or early June to harvest in October or when the pumpkin turns a vibrant orange. The average pumpkin has about 500 seeds inside. Pumpkin seeds can be saved to plant in the subsequent year, or they can be roasted for a very yummy treat!

• During the 19th Century, New Englanders had some very unusual uses for pumpkin. Some of the maladies that they believed pumpkin could cure include; freckles, dog and cat digestion issues, wrinkles, and snake bites.

• There are about 30 varieties of pumpkins. The type of pumpkin you usually buy for carving is most likely the Connecticut Field pumpkin.

• Jack O Lanterns aside, pumpkins are all about the pie. The early colonists would lop off the top of a pumpkin, and after removing all the pumpkin guts, they would add milk, spices, and honey to the inside and then replace the pumpkin’s lid. The pumpkin would then be placed into hot ashes and baked. This innovative creation was likely the earliest version of the beloved pumpkin pie!

How to Choose the perfect Halloween Pumpkin

grace checking pumpkinsSQ.jpgWhen it comes time to head to the pumpkin patch to select your Halloween pumpkin to make your own Jack-O-Lantern, there are few things you should be mindful about for greater carving success.

~Check your potential pumpkin candidate for any bruising, soft spots or irregularities that may indicate potential rotting issues. Look for a pumpkin with smooth and uniform skin. 

~If you are planning on sitting your pumpkin outside after carving, make sure that you test your pumpkin to see if it sits well without rolling or tipping. 

~Pumpkins come in many shapes--tall, short, fat, and elongated--choose whatever shape you like, just make sure the flesh looks healthy. 

~Once you’ve selected your Halloween pumpkins, cradle them in your arms and don’t pick them up by the stem as this may cause the stem to break off.

The pumpkin is rife with opportunity. From its utter deliciousness baked into goodies, to its divinely bright color sitting on our stoop—the pumpkin is one of the purest delights of autumn. Many people, of course, carve their pumpkins. For some how-to pumpkin carving tips, check out the Halloween Express Pumpkin Carving History and How-to-Tips.

October is pumpkin time —what are you waiting for?

The Legend of Jack O Lantern

For centuries, the lore surrounding the Jack O Lantern has shaped our celebration of Halloween. There are many variations of the actual story surrounding the legendary Jack--here is one of them!

RWZOO_NBX3.jpgMany many years ago, in a local small village there lived a man known as Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack earned his moniker because of his miserable, miserly ways, but this was not the last of his insidious behavior. Jack was well known in his community for being a vicious prankster. No one was beneath his tricks--father, mother, sister, brother--it didn’t matter. Anyone who Jack viewed as a target for his animus, he went after them with guile. One day, Jack was feeling rather daring, and he decided to play a trick on the devil himself. Feigning friendship, Jack invited the devil to share a drink with him at a local tavern.

Jack and the devil conversed and enjoyed a drink together at the tavern. During his conversation with the devil, Jack realized that even he did not enjoy the devil’s evilness and he concocted what he thought was a foolproof plan to ensure he would never have to spend eternity in the depths of hell, in spite of the many evil doings during his life.

When it came time to pay for the drinks Jack and the devil had enjoyed, miserly ol’ Jack told the devil that he didn’t have any money to pay the tab. The devil was annoyed with Jack and said to him that since he invited him for drinks, it was up to him to settle the bill. Jack turned on his charm that was hard to resist--even for the devil--as Jack had been practicing his manipulative behavior for decades. Jack was very convincing and persuaded the devil to turn himself temporarily into a coin. Jack told the devil that after he paid the bill with the coin, then the devil could transform back to himself and all would be well.

The devil agreed with Jack’s plan as it was natural for him to want to do dishonest deeds and he liked the idea of defrauding the tavern. The devil immediately turned himself into a coin.

Jack-o-lanterns stone wall dusk_Halloween New England_SQ.jpgJack had never intended to follow through with the deal he made with the devil. In fact, Jack had a plan of his very own that he hoped would ensure that he never went to hell after his life ended. Jack took the coin that used to be the devil and put it in his pocket. Inside his pocket, Jack had placed a crucifix, which completely disabled any power that the devil had to transform himself back to his original form. He had left the devil utterly powerless in his pocket.

Of course, the devil was furious about the situation and was frustrated that he had been outwitted by someone the likes of Stingy Jack. He begged and pleaded with Jack to release him and give him back his powers. Jack finally relented to the devil’s request--but only on the condition that the devil would promise that he would never take his soul into hell. The devil agreed, and Jack removed the crucifix from his pocket, allowing the devil to turn back into his old self.

After this incident, Jack went about his miserable life, as usual, knowing full well now that nothing he did would earn him eternal residence in hell. He felt confident in his misdeeds and continued doing them until the day he died.

Once Jack died, however, he was denied entrance into heaven because of the terrible and evil life he had lived without remorse. Jack was in a quandary now because heaven would not let him in--but the devil honored his deal and did not take him into hell, either. Jack’s soul would be forced to wander the earth in limbo for eternity--not allowed rest in heaven or hell. Jack was overcome with despair because of his utter stupidity, but it was too late. Jack had made a deal with the devil, and now he would pay for this mistake for all eternity. The devil actually felt a little sorry for Jack and his situation. As a final gesture of goodwill, the devil gave Jack a burning ember to carry with him in a lantern, so at least he would have something to light his way for eternity.

Legend states that to this day, Jack wanders the earth with his flickering lantern. They say this lantern grows particularly bright on Halloween night.