Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Great Pumpkin

Carving pumpkins into Jack-O-Lanterns is a centuries old tradition which began with the Irish carving turnips and beets as lanterns placing them in their windows, lit from the inside with a lump of coal.  They were used as a welcome for those who had passed on and as a deterrent to evil spirits. When the Irish immigrated to the United States in 1848 during the potato famine they could not find many turnips or beets, but found an abundance of pumpkins.  From this time on, the carving and lighting of the pumpkin became a tradition in the United States on All Souls Day.  This tradition later became transferred to the day we celebrate Halloween.

A traditional Irish Halloween Jack-O-Lantern from early 20th century at Museum of Country Life, Ireland

Did you know that pumpkins are not a vegetable - they are a fruit!  Pumpkins, like gourds and other varieties of squash are all members of the Cucurbitacae family, which also includes cucumbers, gherkins and melons.  Pumpkins have been grown in America for over 5,000 years.  They were unknown in Europe before the time of Columbus.

If you are going to carve a face in your pumpkin it works very well with an elongated pumpkin rather than a round squatty one.  It is so much easier to carve if you have a very ripe pumpkin, hard to know this until you stick in the knife.  Sketch out your face on the best side of the pumpkin,, cut a circular lid on top (large enough to insert an LED candle) scoop out all of the seeds. Separate the stringy fibers from the seeds and wash the seeds in a colander.

I think the children are better artists than I am

If you are doing this with children it is fun to let them tell you how it feels when they scoop out the seeds, talk about shapes, colors, ask them how many seeds they think are in the pumpkin.  Help them lift the pumpkin, how much do they think it weighs, show them on a scale.  I think you get the idea, this can be a multi-level integrated experience for children.  Lay the seeds out on paper towels and when dry, it is a great activity to count them by ones and then tens.  It is always amazing how many seeds are in a pumpkin!

This is certainly not a professional carving job!

You can't stop eating them!  This is a child tested recipe for pumpkin seeds.

     Make sure the seeds are dry
     Put them in a frying pan with butter and salt
     Cook slowly until brownish stirring often
     Drain on paper towel

Yum, Yum!

LED candles fit inside and are safe.  I have a six inch one in this pumpkin.


Lily said...

You did a great job carving the pumpkin!

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Lily, I think it would have been easier if I used one of those pumpkin carving kits - couldn't find the one I bought a few years ago.


Jenny said...

Thanks for all the information on Halloween. I try to explain it to my Dutch friends who don't know about the holiday.

What a wonderful scary pumpkin, the first one that looks like a mummy.

Sweet Home and Garden Carolina said...

Hey Eileen,

Sorry that I haven't gotten to visit and comment as much as I would've liked to. Busy, crazy Summer and Fall .

Love that ancient Irish pumpkin.

meemsnyc said...

Love roasted pumpkin seeds. Delicious.

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Hi Jenny,

It might need an explanation nowadays with all of the commercialization. However, this is an interesting history to Halloween pagan and christianity melded together.


Gatsbys Gardens said...

Hi Carolyn, I know Gone South as they day. I can certainly understand you wanting to be with your family and that little Sweet Pea.


Gatsbys Gardens said...

Hi Meemsync,

They are delicious, it's the butter.


Anonymous said...

Dear Eileen, Your pumpkin lantern is such fun. I really do admire all the effort you put into making this holiday such a special and amusing time for your family and friends. It is just as it should be.

Beth said...

Nice post! I enjoyed your educational twist on carving pumpkins. I came to visit from Larry's blog...I see that you are a frequent commenter there. I'm also from the midwest and we had the good fortune to visit Larry and Sarah and their spectacular gardens last summer! They are the nicest couple, with, needless to say, gardens that are amazing!
Blessings, Beth

Diana LaMarre said...

I am so impressed that you carved a pumpkin--he/she? looks great!

I need not know that the turnip started this tradition.

I wish I had some of those pumpkin seeds to munch on as I begin my blog surfing. YUM!

Karen said...

Hi Eileen, Love the pumpkin and I think it was a great carving job! I want to try your recipe for pumpkin seeds, sounds wonderful!

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Hi Edith,

I think I have carved a pumpkin every year of my life for over forty years. I wasn't going to do one this year but I thought, since I can't have the real ones outside, I might as well do one for inside.


Gatsbys Gardens said...

Hi Beth, I just can't pass up those teachable moments. I know the children enjoy Halloween but it is an added bonus to teach them something about it.


Gatsbys Gardens said...

Zoey, I really felt I made a mess of that pumpkin without my pumpkin tools. They really do work better than a knife but I couldn't find them.


Gatsbys Gardens said...

Karen, I think you will love those pumpkin seeds! My mother used to put them on a tray in the oven with salt. I never really liked them until I pan fried them with butter. Naturally, it was the butter.


Shirley said...


I will have to try your recipe for pumpkin seeds. I've baked them in the oven with butter and salt and worcestershire sauce but this is much simpler. They must be good if they tested well with children.

Carving pumpkins has always been a favorite activity as the kids grew up. It's interesting to see the designs they come up with.

Have a great day,

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Thanks Shirley, I think you will like the seeds. I put mine in the freezer to save for the weekend. I was afraid I would eat them all!