Tis the Season for Pumpkins!!!

October 13, 2010

If you had to pick one month of the year that best symbolizes all that New England has to offer, there’s a good chance the month of October would be at the top of many people’s list. Of course where we live, each season is unique and that’s what makes our region so special. But October seems to give us a little of everything. Warm and cool temperatures, outdoor fairs and festivals, hay rides and corn mazes, apple picking, and who can forget the beautiful fall foliage that the month brings us?

It’s also the time of year for pumpkins. While they are not unique to Connecticut, they certainly symbolize the season with their bright orange color. The state is home to a number of farms that harvest pumpkins. Planted throughout the months of May and June, pumpkins are in abundant supply when they are ready for harvest in October. Whether you get your pumpkins at a local market or farm stand, or pick your own at a local pumpkin patch, one of the great American traditions is choosing the “perfect pumpkin.”

Pumpkins are used in a number of cuisines. From spices, to ciders, to a variety of different foods, no harvest or holiday season would be complete without the gourd’s most famous culinary creation… the pumpkin pie. Even with the popularity of that delicious dessert, pumpkins are perhaps best known for their symbolic relationship with Halloween and the creations that they become once decorated or carved into jack-o’-lanterns. But did you ever wonder how they became synonymous with the holiday?

Pumpkin carving and Halloween stem from the Celtic tradition of All Hallows Eve. Because pumpkins are native to America, the Irish instead used turnips, potatoes and other small vegetables that – once carved and lit – would help fight evil spirits. How did this all come about?

There are many different versions of the legend, but it centers mainly on an old Irish farmer named Jack who was too stingy and vengeful to get into heaven. Some of the folklore has Jack making a deal with the devil after tricking him up into a tree. In exchange for allowing him to get down from the tree, the devil agrees not to take Jack’s soul when he dies. Not being allowed into heaven or hell, Jack had nowhere to go following his death, nor did he have any light.

The legend goes onto say that the devil gave him an ember from the flames of hell to help provide light for his journey. Jack placed the ember into a carved out turnip that he always carried with him. The “jack-o’lantern” lit his way as he wandered the earth seeking a resting place.

As Irish immigrants began to settle in America in the early 1800’s, they brought with them their All Hallows Eve traditions including the carving of the turnips to ward off the evil spirits, but soon they realized pumpkins were much bigger and easier to carve and light up than turnips. Thus, the jack-o’-lantern as we know it today was created.

In more ways than one pumpkins really are a sign of the season. Whether they are carved, decorated, eaten or just have a spot on the front stoop, when you really think about pumpkins, they make this season special.