TO KNOW ABOUT PUMPKINS
Sometime between a thousand and two thousand years ago, the first agricultural seed plants of the western hemisphere were developed. They were originally culled from wild species and then cultivated to improve the quality and quantity of the plant. This is nothing new in the civilized world, it is just another part of the long story that began thousands of years earlier, when rice was first cultivated in southeast Asia. Rice was the first seed crop, which meant that farmers could save the seeds from one year's harvest, and plant them the next spring.
(PHOTO ABOVE: Bruno Bohrer inspects a Trojan Horse made entirely of pumpkins and gourds from his farm in the German district of Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald. Each fall he commissions harvest-themed sculptures to attract diners to his farm's restaurant. )
The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word "Pepõn" which means large melon. The word gradually morphed by the French, English and then Americans into the word "pumpkin." Pumpkins and squash are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas. These early pumpkins were not the traditional round orange upright Jack-O-Lantern fruit we think of today when you hear the word pumpkin. They were a crooked neck variety which stored well.
Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans. This took place long before the emergence of maize (corn). After maize was introduced, ancient farmers learned to grow squash with maize and beans using the "Three Sisters" tradition.
It is said that Columbus carried pumpkin seeds back with him to Europe. There they were used to feed pigs, not yet considered a human food source. Native Americans introduced pumpkins and squash to the Pilgrims. Pumpkins were an important food source for the pilgrims, as they stored well, which meant they would have a nutritious food source during the winter months. It is documented that pumpkins were served at the second Thanksgiving celebration.
The Pilgrims would cut the top off of the pumpkin, scoop the seeds out, and fill the cavity with cream, honey, eggs and spices. They placed the top back on and carefully buried it in the hot ashes of a cooking fire. When finished cooking, they lifted this blackened item from the earth with no pastry shell whatsoever. They scooped the contents out along with the cooked flesh of the shell like a custard. The Pilgrims were also known to make pumpkin beer. They fermented a combination of persimmons, hops, maple sugar and pumpkin to make this early colonial brew. In early colonies, pumpkin shells were used as a template for haircuts to ensure a round and uniform finished cut. As a result of this practice, New Englanders were sometimes nicknamed "pumpkinheads".
There are many theories as to the origins of Jack-o-lanterns and Halloween. Early Jack-o-lanterns were carved from turnips and potatoes by the Irish and Scottish and carried in Celtic celebrations. The English used beets. Lumps of coal were lit on fire and placed inside the hollow root vegetables.
When European settlers arrived in America, they found that our American pumpkin varieties were well suited to being carved as a "Jack's" lanterns. They are fairly large in size, have upright strong walls, and most importantly a large hollow cavity. In the late 1800s there was a movement to turn Halloween into a celebration emphasizing community and neighborhood activities and parties. This is the Halloween we know and celebrate today.
Legend of the Jack-o-Lantern: People have been making jack-o-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.
Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since.
The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern." In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.
In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o'lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o' lanterns. ~Source: The History Channel