Oct 2, 2019
With October's arrival, we find a lot more winter squash and gourds around the farmers' markets. It's a great time to start roasting, sautéing and making soup out the abundance of fruit that comes from the Cucurbitaceae family. As I was thinking about this month's article I started to wonder why we carve pumpkins on Halloween? As I approach my 49th Halloween I realized I have never known why we celebrate the pumpkin as a Jack O' Lantern on October 31st.
According to my research, I found out that the Jack O' Lantern originated from Ireland. You might find that odd since pumpkins weren't grown in Ireland. Pumpkins originated in Mexico between 5500 - 7000 B.C. The Native Americans used them as a staple in their diet way before any of the European explorers arrived on the continent.
When the Irish came over in the late 1800's they brought many pieces of folklore with them. including the story of Stingy Jack. According to the story, Stingy Jack was a drunk and a trickster and lived a miserable life. He even tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree. He then put crosses around the base of the tree so the Devil couldn't come down. The Devil begged for Stingy Jack to let him down. Stingy Jack said he would let the Devil down only if he promised not to take Stingy Jack's soul when he died. The Devil agreed and was let down from the apple tree.
When Stingy Jack passed away his soul went up to the pearly gates in heaven. Saint Peter was at the gate and would not let Stingy Jack into Heaven because he led a miserable life and wasn't ever kind to anyone. Stingy Jack went down to Hell where the Devil greeted him. The Devil wouldn't let him in because of his promise to Stingy Jack not to take his soul. Stingy Jack wasn't sure what to do and asked the Devil how he could get back through the darkness. The Devil gave him an ember from Hell to light the way. Jack had a turnip in his pocket since it was his favorite food. He carved it out and put the ember of fire in it to keep it going as he roamed the earth.
The Irish referred to the ghostly soul as Jack of the Lantern. The Irish started carving turnips, potatoes and rutabagas and would hang them in windows to ward off Stingy Jack and other wandering souls. Once they came to America, the immigrants found that pumpkins were easier to carve.
1 (4 to 6-pound) baking pumpkin, rinsed and dried
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Slice a small piece of skin off the one side of the pumpkin so when laid on its side, the pumpkin will lay flat without rolling.
Remove the stem and split the pumpkin in half from top to bottom, using a large cleaver and a mallet. Scoop out the seeds and fiber with a large metal spoon or ice cream scoop. Cut the fibers with kitchen shears if necessary. Reserve seeds for another use.
Sprinkle the flesh with kosher salt and lay the halves, flesh side down, on a parchment paper-lined half sheet pan. Roast until a paring knife can be easily inserted and removed from the pumpkin, 30 to 45 minutes. Test in several places to ensure doneness.
Remove the half sheet pan to a cooling rack and cool the pumpkin for 1 hour. Using a large spoon, remove the roasted flesh of the pumpkin from the skin to the bowl of a food processor. Process until the flesh is smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.
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