The History Behind Pumpkins and Halloween
- By Jenna Maxwell
Pumpkins are ripe and plentiful in the fall, just in time for Halloween. These big orange fruits are used in many ways. You might bring one home from a pumpkin patch or the grocery store and carve it into a jack-o'-lantern. Pumpkin is nutritious and good to eat. Pumpkins can also be used for decoration. Some people even have pumpkin-tossing contests. The history of pumpkins and their use at Halloween contains a mixture of interesting facts and Celtic folklore. Find out how the pumpkin replaced the turnip in the Halloween story and discover more ways to use pumpkins.
History of the Pumpkin
Pumpkins, which are a type of squash, were first found in the Americas, primarily in the area of Central America and Mexico. Native Americans carried pumpkin seeds into other parts of North America. They cut pumpkins into long strips and roasted them over a fire. They also wove dried strips of pumpkin into mats. The Native Americans ate pumpkin seeds and also used them for medicine. Columbus took pumpkin seeds back to Europe, but they did not grow well there. Jacques Cartier, a French explorer, found pumpkins in what is now part of Canada in 1584. He called them "pepons," a Greek word that means "large melons." Over time, the name was changed to "pumpkin." When the colonists arrived in the U.S., they began using pumpkins for food, too. It was the influence of Irish immigrants, however, that made the pumpkin a part of Halloween.
History of the Jack-o'-Lantern
Early Irish immigrants to the U.S. brought the tradition of making a jack-o'-lantern at Halloween. According to Irish folklore, Jack was a blacksmith who had tricked the devil on several occasions. The story says that when Jack died, he was denied entrance into both heaven and hell. When the devil turned him away, he gave Jack a burning ember. Jack hollowed out a turnip to carry the ember and give him light. The Irish remembered this story each year by carving scary faces on turnips and placing a burning piece of coal inside. However, when the Irish immigrated to the U.S., they discovered that pumpkins were more readily available and made better jack-o'-lanterns than turnips. Eventually, candles replaced the burning coals. You might use a battery-operated candle or a flashlight inside your jack-o'-lantern today.
History of Pumpkin Carving
Over time, the practice of carving spooky faces on a pumpkin evolved into other forms of pumpkin-carving. The original idea of the jack-o'-lantern was to scare away evil spirits. The Irish would set the carved pumpkins or turnips by their doors and windows in hopes that they would protect them. Modern pumpkin-carving, though, is often done for entertainment. While carving faces onto the pumpkins is still popular, enthusiasts also carve different designs. Some organizations distribute patterns that members can use for pumpkin-carving. For example, students might use a pattern to carve the name or symbol of their school on a pumpkin. Pumpkin-carving contests and pumpkin-throwing contests are also popular at Halloween.
Popular Pumpkin Recipes
There are 30 varieties of pumpkin, but the one most commonly used for carving jack-o'-lanterns is the Connecticut field variety. The pulp of this variety is stringy and not the best for eating. A sweeter variety is preferred for baking. The colonists may have developed an early version of pumpkin pie by filling a hollowed-out pumpkin with a blend of spices, milk, and honey and then roasting it over hot ashes. Pumpkin is a source of potassium, vitamin A, and other nutrients. It can be used in pies, breads, cakes, cookies, soups, and other foods. There are about 500 seeds in a pumpkin, and these can be roasted or dried for eating. Pumpkin blossoms can also be used in recipes.
Facts About Pumpkins
Not all pumpkins are orange. Some varieties yield white, tan, yellow, or even blue produce. Pumpkins come in a wide range of sizes, too. Miniature pumpkins weighing less than two pounds might be used in table centerpieces. Giant varieties can weigh more than a thousand pounds. While the common jack-o'-lantern pumpkin is round, there are varieties that are flat and other that are bumpy. Columbus had difficulty raising his pumpkin seeds in Europe, but pumpkins are now grown on all of the continents except Antarctica. At one time, people believed that pumpkins could be used to remove freckles and heal snake bites. Some people also believed that pumpkin could cure diarrhea and constipation in dogs and cats. These medicinal claims have been debunked, but there remain plenty of good uses for the pumpkin.