With a ridiculous name like "pumpkin" what else could it be but a plump orange vegetable that can weigh up to 200 pounds. They just weighed the biggest pumpkin this week and it weighted over 2,000 lbs. It was an odd shape and I didn't think it had the bright orange color I associate with pumpkins and I know it wasn't raised like we grow in our gardens around here. It definitely was a pumpkin on steroids and I never heard if this pumpkin was a boy or a girl. Yes, pumpkins have a gender. Every bride in colonial times has to learn to identify a tender female pumpkin, from the male, and is used in the traditional pumpkin bread. The female pumpkin is less stringy more delicate and is more flavorful and is used for pies, puddings and soups. Pumpkins fall into the category of plants with imperfect flowers. This means some flowers have a male part, the stamen and the other blooms on the pumpkins have a pistil or female part. People who know their pumpkins have no trouble in identifying the gender of a pumpkin. A male pumpkin only blooms for one day while a female pumpkin will bloom for several days. After pollination, the female will swell at the base of the flower. When this pumpkin matures it is smaller, but perfectly round and weigh about 3 to 4 pounds. That is the pumpkins you see advertised as pie pumpkins. The male pumpkins grows quite large in size and those are the ones we use for Jack-Lantern's.
The Irish brought the tradition of the Jack-Lantern to America. But, the original Jack O' Lantern was not a pumpkin. On all Hallows Eve, the Irish hollowed out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and especially Stingy Jack to stay away. As Irish lore tells Stingy Jack was a miserable old drunk, who liked to play dirty tricks on everyone. It was told Stingy Jack made a pact with the devil that when he died the devil would not banish him to hell. When he died and went to the pearly gates, Saint Peter said he was too mean and cruel and had lived a miserable and worthless life on Earth and was not allowed to enter heaven. The devil kept his promise and he was not allowed to enter hell, either. Jack was left to wander the Earth without a resting place, but he had placed an ember from hell in his favorite turnip and that was the way he could wander in the dark. The Irish did the same as Jack and hollowed out various vegetables, placed a light in them to keep away evil spirits and to keep Stingy Jack away.
In the 1800's the Irish immigrants came to America, they quickly discovered that pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out, so they used pumpkins for Jack O' Lanterns. Also the pumpkin is native to the Americas, with most of the varieties coming from Mexico. The celebration of Halloween did come from a pagan belief, but for most of us it is just fun to have a spooky and fun time on Halloween.
This is the time of year for pumpkin desserts and this was given to me by a friend:
PUMPKIN ICE CREAM PIE
1 Graham cracker crust
1 quart vanilla ice cream,
1 cup pumpkin
1/2 up brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ginger
Combine pumpkin mixture and add to softened ice cream and blend with a electric mixer.
Pour into crust, sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on top and freeze. Take out of freezer about 5 minutes before cutting it. Easy and delicious.
"Time to celebrate autumn."