For many people, it isn’t Halloween until the jack-o’-lantern is carved and illuminated, but most people aren’t familiar with the origins of the centuries old practice. It is believed that pumpkin carving originated in an Irish myth, when a man named Stingy Jack invited the devil to have a drink with him. He tricked the devil twice, and made him promise that he wouldn’t claim Jack’s soul once he died, but when Stingy Jack actually did die, God would not allow him into heaven, and the devil wanted nothing to do with him, so he had nowhere to go.
The devil sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way, and Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The spectre the Irish referred to as Jack of the Lantern became Jack O’Lantern, and it morphed into today’s jack-o’-lantern.
The tradition came to America with the Irish immigrants, and they soon discovered that a pumpkin, which is native to North America, is a perfect vessel to carve and light up with a candle.
Today, at this time of year, there is pumpkin everywhere, and pumpkin spice in everything, but not many people know just how many kinds of pumpkins there are. Pumpkins, squash, and gourds are all in the same family (Cucurbitaceae) and it includes hundreds of species of vines bearing some of the most unusual fruits in the world.
Another little-known fact is that pumpkins are a fruit. It’s estimated the total number of species may exceed 700. And some of them have some exotic, fun, and colorful looks and names, including Baby Boo, Munchkin, and the French pumpkin Rouge Vif D’Etampes. Whether they are blue with creepy bumps, or traditionally round and bright orange, pumpkins, gourds, and squash come in all shapes and sizes, and most are edible.
In this month’s Taste of Harmons Podcast, Aaron Smart, the produce manager at our Emigration Market, joins our hosts to discuss all the different kinds of gourds, and the many things you can do with them. It’s an informative and funny episode you will want to tune in to.
Here’s a few more interesting pumpkin facts:
- In an interesting note, 80 percent of the pumpkin crop in the United States is available during October, because we really like our pumpkins.
- Pumpkin seeds are a treat not everyone has tried, but they contain more protein than peanuts, and can be roasted with salt and spices for a delicious treat.
- Colonial Americans relied heavily on pumpkins and they tended to use them as a substitute for grain in savory dishes.
- Pumpkins can range from the tiny ornamental varieties to world record-setting behemoths that can weigh thousands of pounds (and probably don’t taste great).
Speaking of big pumpkins, we have a rather large one in each of our stores, and if you correctly guess the weight, you win the pumpkin.