The Humble Pumpkin: From Obscure Gourd to Halloween Staple

the humble pumpkin

Pumpkins,autumn and Halloween go together like bread and butter! What has made this gourd, previously unknown to the Old World, practically synonymous with the holiday?

Picture this, the whispers of autumn are beginning to stir, you may feel a slight chill in the air, or notice that leaves begin to crunch beneath your feet as you walk among the woods. Something shifts in the air, giving every breeze a significant, if not foreboding feeling. For many, the end of summer brings to mind an end to sunny days and harvests, and thoughts of settling in for the winter. Perhaps you are beginning to put together your Christmas plans or pulling your winter clothing out of storage?

For the Celtic people, autumn was more significant, and far more sinister.

Samhain: Halloween’s Origins

On what we know as November 1st, the Celts celebrated the beginning of their calendar year on a holiday known as Samhain. When Christianity took hold of the land, All Saint’s Day took the place of Samhain. Not to be deterred, the Celtic people moved their holiday to its current home on October 31st.

The day was significant, not only because it marked the start of a new year, but because of the roaming spirits that came along to visit! It is believed that, on Samhain, the lines between the world and the “otherworld” that housed the supernatural blurred. Those who had died that year made their trip to the otherworld, while gods, spirits, and the dead took their chance to haunt our world and play tricks on the living.

halloween dress up

To keep the supernatural at bay, the Celts came up with some inventive ways to drive them out or confuse them, such as dressing up in costumes and decorating their houses with carved… turnips.

Yes, turnips and other vegetables, not pumpkins, were carved with faces to scare off spirits. In fact, the Celts who began the holiday had likely never seen a pumpkin before. 

New World, New Traditions: The humble Pumpkin Makes its Halloween Debut

It wasn’t until Irish immigrants began travelling across the sea to the new world that the pumpkin began to become a Halloween staple. The gourd, native to the area, was conveniently ready for harvest in autumn, and was far more plentiful than turnips. Thus, a new tradition was born, faces would be carved into a variety of vegetables, still, but primarily pumpkins from then on.

carved pumpkins

Over time, the pumpkin dominated the carving scene. And, with so many pumpkins being produced, the gourd became one of the autumn food mainstays. Everything from pies to stews to beer were made with pumpkin, making this gourd and the autumn season nearly inseparable.

How to Add Pumpkin to Every Part of Your Autumn Festivities

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “pumpkin spice everything” trend, but you may not realize just how many uses this humble gourd has. Here are some creative ways to use pumpkins in every part of your autumn festivities.

  • Add some tasty pumpkin puree to just about anything to pack a delicious, nutritional punch. Try it in casseroles, baked goods, and even coffee!
  • Not a coffee drinker? You can still get in on the cosy taste of pumpkin spice by picking up some pumpkin spice hot chocolate.
  • Snack on some hearty pumpkin seeds for a protein boost, or add them to your favourite sweet bread recipes for some seasonal crunch.
  • Use pumpkins when garnishing food! We all know of the traditional Jack-o-Lantern, but you can add these cute, plump pumpkins to your decor without worrying about having fresh produce rotting on your doorstep with these faux pumpkin alternatives.
  • Check out some of our own pumpkin recipes, spooky or not, to make at home.

Whether it winds up on your front porch or in your coffee, it’s likely that the humble pumpkin is going to make its way into your life sometime this autumn. Enjoy this hearty gourd while it’s around! And who knows, maybe it will even ward off evil spirits like Stingy Jack.

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