Newsletter no. 20

Last week you got pumpkins! Pumpkins are native to North America and are in the same family as other winter squash like delicata. The oldest evidence of winter squash was found in Mexico around 5000 B.C. Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. They also roasted them to eat and used the seeds for medicine. Early colonists of the United States sliced off pumpkin tops, removed seeds, filled the inside with milk, spices and honey and roasted it in ashes, making a version of pumpkin pie.

People have been using pumpkins to decorate for Halloween for generations. The tradition is inspired by an Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack. One day Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him and because he didn’t want to pay for his drink he told the Devil to turn into a coin, which he then decided to put in his pocket along with a silver cross, making it impossible for the Devil to change back. Jack eventually freed the Devil and after years of trickery died. God would not allow Jack into heaven and the Devil, upset by Jack’s tricks, would not allow him into hell. Instead, the Devil sent Jack into the night with only a burning coal to see. Jack put the coal into a carved turnip and has been wandering the Earth ever since. The Irish referred to him as Jack of the Lantern which later turned into Jack O’Lantern.

People in England, Ireland and Scotland began to make versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving beets, turnips and potatoes. They were kept in doorways and windows to scare away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits around Halloween. Immigrants from these countries brought the custom to the U.S. using pumpkins.