In all seriousness, our modern versions of Halloween and the Jack-o-Lantern are marvelous cultural mashups of “New World” and European folkloric traditions whose origins date back thousands of years.
Rather than go through all the historical details about those ancient traditions here, anyone interested in learning more about their origins should read more about Samhain, the Gaelic harvest festival. You’ll also see origins of our modern Halloween tradition in the Catholic celebration known as All Saints Day.
The original jack-o-lanters weren’t made from pumpkins?
The American tradition of carving pumpkin Jack-O-Lanterns dates back to at least 1836, and was borrowed from the European tradition of carving jack-o-lanterns from large turnips. (Europe didn’t have pumpkins when the tradition started, because pumpkins are native to the Americas.)
In parts of Europe, there were folktales of a clever farmer named Jack whose favorite food was turnips. In one of the most popular stories about Jack, he managed to trick the devil into becoming a silver coin. Then Jack held the devil hostage in his wallet with a cross, rendering him powerless.
In exchange for Jack releasing him from his wallet, the devil promised Jack he wouldn’t take his soul. However, Jack may have been too clever for his own good…
He was supposedly too sinful throughout his life to be granted entrance into heaven, thus dooming him to a state of purgatory here on earth. Since the devil couldn’t take Jack’s soul, he spitefully threw Jack an eternal flame from hell. Jack then used the flame to light the inside of his favorite food, the turnip, where his soul would take up shelter during each fall harvest season.
For the rest of the year, Jack’s flame could be seen wandering through Europe’s marshes, bogs, and swamps. This folktale provided a much-needed explanation for the spooky blue orb-like flames that hover above these bodies of water as a result of ignited, “cold-burning” swamp gasses, aka “ignis fatuus.”
In other parts of Europe, people also used their turnip jack-o-lanterns to ward off evil spirits from entering their homes, since these spirits were said to be particularly active during the “dark half of the year.”
So, when you’re lighting your jack-o-lantern, make sure you say hello to ol’ Jack. Also, make sure that you save your pumpkin when the candle goes out. After all, pumpkins are one delicious, nutritious food that you don’t want to waste — especially if you got them from an organic farm or grew them organically yourself!
Amazing Pumpkin Facts & Figures
As big as the pumpkins in this picture are, they’re nowhere close to the world record holder. Each year, the previous record seems to get broken, with the world’s largest pumpkins now easily topping 2,500 pounds. Image credit: User:Nyttend – Own work, Public Domain, Link
A native of North America, pumpkins are actually a winter squash in the family Cucurbita.
Pumpkins range in weight from a few pounds to massive “Atlantic Giant” varieties, which can easily top the scales at over 2,000 pounds.
Archaeologists excavating a tomb in central Mexico, unearthed the oldest known pumpkin seeds ever found, which date back 10,000 years!
Pumpkins are also one of the most versatile foods on the planet, They’re used in a huge variety of foods and drinks including:
soups and stews,
coffee flavoring and more.
Our adorable niece, Alli, patiently observing a homemade pumpkin pie made from an organically grown Tyrant Farms pumpkin, fresh out of the oven.
Pumpkins are big business, and they can be big hits in your garden too
The US now grows over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins per year. 95% of those pumpkins are grown in Illinois.
85% of all pumpkins grown in the US are produced by Libby. Libby is a subsidiary of Nestlé, the massive Swiss-based company that is also the world’s largest food company by revenue.
Most people in the US with access to a lawn or a public shared garden can easily grow their own pumpkins from seed using organic methods. There are dozens of heirloom pumpkin varieties to choose from, each offering different sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors.
We’ve already made a bunch of new, delicious pumpkin recipes from our pumpkins’ flowers, leaves, seeds, and meat this season. The sweet, intense floral aroma and taste of our organic home-grown heirloom pumpkin puree is a night-and-day difference versus the store-bought canned pumpkin.
We love scooping out the pumpkin seeds and cooking them in our wok. Then we roast the pumpkin flesh skin-side-down in preparation for making it into puree for delicious meals throughout the year.
Maybe you want to learn how to give ol’ Jack’s soul a place to hide in a homegrown, heirloom pumpkin. Or maybe you want to learn how to eat every part of a pumpkin plant — flowers, leaves, seeds, and flesh.
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Food explorer, seed & soil geek, duck evangelist, writer, health nut, and entrepreneur. Aaron is farm manager at Oak Hill Cafe & Farm, a no-till, permaculture, farm-to-table restaurant & farm located right down the street from his alma mater, Furman University, in Greenville, SC. In addition to their collaboration on Tyrant Farms, Aaron and his wife, Susan, are cofounders of GrowJourney.com, a USDA certified organic seed & gardening education company. Aaron also writes for Edible Upcountry Magazine, WordPress (.com), Daily Harvest Express, and other food and tech-related organizations. He serves on the board of the Diversified Agriculture Committee for the South Carolina Farm Bureau.