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It looks like this late turnip crop is going to be an exceptional one. I will likely have some ready to harvest in honor of Halloween this year, too, which is quite apropos. What does the turnip have to do with Halloween you may ask? Well, they just may be more authentic than that pumpkin on the porch!
The pumpkins have been for sale for weeks and children have decided on costumes but somewhere in the middle of it all is the story of All Hallow’s Eve. Halloween, as it is known today, has its origins in something a bit more interesting than just pumpkin carving and candy collecting. In fact, the evening’s festivities marked the beginning of winter for the ancient Celtic race of the Druids.
The Druids were essentially reacting to a belief that the souls of the dead returned to wander among the living for one night. The Druids would light huge bonfires and dress up to both acknowledge and scare the ghostly beings away from their homes. When Irish immigrants came to North America they brought All Hallow’s Eve with them; their children brought the tradition of carving the Jack-o-lantern.
Irish legend has it that a drunkard named Jack was the first to carve a “Jack-o-lantern,” but back home it was carved from a turnip. One day Jack had a run-in with the devil and a legend was born. After some shenanigans Jack managed to trap the devil up in a tree by carving a cross in the trunk; he then proceeded to make a deal with the Devil and bargained for his soul before he would allow the Devil out of the tree. The Devil promised not to take his soul, so Jack wasn’t going to hell but he wasn’t going to heaven either. The deal resulted in Jack wandering between the two destinations, in eternal darkness.
When Jack crossed the devil’s path once again, the devil threw a hot ember at him out of spite for tricking him up that tree. In his cleverness, Jack quickly hollowed out the turnip in his pocket and placed the ember inside. He now had a lantern to light his way as he wandered for eternity. The Scots called their turnips “bogies” which gave way to the term “bogie-man” as children ran scared with their turnip lanterns on the night of All Hallow’s Eve. I wonder if this has something to do with the golf term “to bogey”. Golf did originate in Scotland and a turnip and a golf ball and one over par...well, you can see where this is going.
Anyway, because of the availability and ease in carving, the pumpkin became the “Jack-o-lantern” of choice for Irish immigrants in the New World and this is the tradition that persists today. Pumpkins have been around for a long time, dating back to 7000 BC in the highlands of Mexico where they were prized for their seeds. The flesh of the wild species was bitter so they were harvested as gourds for use as storage vessels, rattles and utensils. The flesh of the pumpkin wasn’t used until after it had been cultivated for centuries.
The pumpkin became a staple crop, along with beans and corn, for many southwest and southeastern American Indian tribes and its appearance figures into many tribal creation stories. The Iroquois creation story names the pumpkin as one of the three vegetables that Mother Earth provided for the people in order to survive. It was grown among the corn that provided shade for the growing vine. The pumpkin vine, in turn, acted as mulch for the corn and kept the weeds under control.
Don’t throw away those pumpkin seeds after you carve your “Jack-o-lantern.” Pumpkin seeds make a delicious and healthy snack. Let the seeds dry well before roasting them in the oven. Once dried, toss them with a little oil and salt. Spread the seeds evenly on a cookie sheet and roast at 350 degrees until they are golden brown, tossing them about on the cookie sheet a couple of times in the process. They are best when they are still a little bit warm.