This versatile fruit is great – for entertainment and consumption
Bats, skulls, ghosts and black cats…. The symbols of Halloween are spooky and quirky. But the symbol intrinsically associated with Halloween is the pumpkin. Come October and you find an abundance of these rotund fruits in varying shades of crimson, yellow and orange. A type of squash, pumpkins are an autumn favorite harvested mainly in September and October in America. The U.S. is the largest producer of pumpkins in the world, and the village of Morton in Illinois is the “self-proclaimed” pumpkin capital of the country. A favorite to make the ubiquitous jack-o’-lanterns, pumpkins are synonymous with the eve of All Saint’s Day, which falls on November 1.
According to legend, Halloween traces its origins to Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival celebrated at the end of summer to honor the deceased. The tribes believed that from the night of October 31 to the morning of November 1, the spirits of the people who had passed on would roam freely. Hence, jack-o’-lanterns carved out of potatoes, beets and turnips with lamps burning with coal inside were placed outside the houses to ward off any spirits. Another theory with regard to the term jack-o’-lantern is associated with an evil, selfish and stingy man called Jack. Legend says that since he was denied an entry in hell and heaven after death, his spirit freely roamed the night, and hence the lanterns with scary faces were used to scare him away.
It was the Irish who bought the tradition to America in the 1800s. When they discovered pumpkins in the country, they thought it was the perfect fruit to carve faces for the lanterns. Since then, it has become a tradition to use pumpkins for all the creative jack-o’-lanterns.
Preparing and Carving the Pumpkin
A wide variety of pumpkins available during Halloween can be used both for decoration and food. It is better to choose a firm, round pumpkin with a smooth surface. Carving is harder if the surface is ribbed. Since preparation for the festival starts much before October 31, it is key that you prepare the pumpkin so that it remains fresh and healthy. Washing and soaking the pumpkin in bleach or vinegar solution ensures that it remains devoid of bacteria and fungi.
After you wash and dry the fruit, use a clean, disinfected knife to cut off a lid and then scoop out the pulp and the seeds. Ensure that the outer wall is about 1 inch thick, taking care not to leave any torn edges or holes in the pumpkin! After this, soak the pumpkin in bleach solution and pat dry before you start making patterns using stencils or a water-soluble pen.
Pumpkins replete with spooky, funny faces illuminated with candles and lights are a common sight on porches and window ledges. If you are not creatively inclined, placing brightly coloured pumpkins in your entry way or by the main door in bamboo baskets or wooden crates are are great way to welcome the spirit of Halloween. Use mini pumpkins inside the house to usher in the festive vibes. Place them on your kitchen counter or side tables along with dry flower arrangements, pine cones and pumpkin spice candles and you are Halloween ready!
Whatever be your style, ensure that you spray the pumpkins with water at regular intervals to keep them hydrated and firm. Applying Vaseline also helps keeps the pumpkins moist. Store them in a warm well-ventilated to mold. If you carve them really early, wrap the fruits in cling film and refrigerate them until you are ready to display them.
Given that pumpkins are nutritious and tasty, there is much you can do with the excess fruit. They are loaded with antioxidants, protein and healthy fats. You can chop and store pumpkins in the refrigerator and use small quantities at a time. Half-boiled chunks can be eaten as a salad after seasoning them with cinnamon, chilli powder or pumpkin spice powder. They can also be boiled with tomatoes, onion and garlic and pureed for a delicious yet healthy soup. Pumpkin pie is yet another favored post-Halloween dish.
Cooked pumpkin also adds great texture to baked goods and is usually included while making muffins and cupcakes. Pumpkin seeds roasted form for a healthy snack and can be added to salads. If you love to experiment, add small quantities of boiled and mashed pumpkin to give a healthy twist to your pancakes, puddings, burger patties and cutlets.