Browsing Asda (a sister supermarket of Walmart in the UK) last week, I happened upon boxes full of pumpkins. Round, orange squashes for sale with a price differentiation by size. Being the cheapo that I am, I went for the 50p pumpkin box. I chose the pumpkin that had the least marks and looked the most perfect. Eager to show Hudson my exciting purchase, I called him into the kitchen when I got home. And immediately, he asked to paint it. How does a 3 year old see an orange vegetable and produce the idea of painting it? Because our culture has defined the pumpkin as a representation of the autumn harvest and Halloween. My boy has already sided with popular culture.
Where did the tradition come? Why do we display, paint, carve, and cook with pumpkins once the month of October rolls around?
The pumpkin originated in North America. Farmers harvested this “great melon”, which is the meaning of its original Greek root – pepon, in the late-summer and autumn. Native Americans used pumpkins as a food source and wove them to make mats for trading.
Pumpkins have continued to represent autumnal flavours because they are harvested in the autumn. Pumpkin pie is the Thanksgiving dessert that people either love or hate. I love it and easily eat the whole pie as it is like eating a vegetable – so it is defo healthy. Pumpkin inspired food springs up everywhere autumn time – there are even pumpkin flavoured crisps (gross). And the beloved drink, the Pumpkin Spice Latte, has entranced the sweet loving white girl generation (total generalization, but a bit true?). Pumpkin will most likely continue as the nostalgic flavour choice when leaves begin to change colour and air turns crisp.
But what about pumpkin carving? Where did that come from? The Irish and the Scots flooded into North America in the mid-1800s – bringing with them their traditions of turnip carving. It was their tradition to carve out turnips and place a candle in them on All Hallow’s Eve to ward off evil spirits. When they arrived in the United States, they soon found that pumpkins were widely available and much easier to carve. And hence the tradition of pumpkin carving! The Brits will probably claim this fact to prove that they begin all traditions that Americans hold. But whatever. In this case, it’s true.
And now you know. Go buy a pumpkin. Carve it with sweet and scary faces and host a party to compare carvings. Paint it. Roast its seeds. Make a pie (although, use tinned pumpkin if you want an authentic, American pumpkin pie). Drink a latte spiced with pumpkin flavours. And maybe even buy some crisps that claim to have pumpkin in the ingredients. Cheers to the season of pumpkin.