When doing my grocery shopping the other day, I noticed all sorts of moms with their little ones, picking out the “perfect” pumpkin to carve. (Some of the kids were rather small … I hope Mom or Dad is wielding the knife.) I know they know it’s a “tradition” but do they know the story behind carving pumpkins this time of year?
The “tradition” really doesn’t go back that far. As a matter of fact, it’s not even mentioned in historical chronicles until the mid-1800’s – and that on this side of the pond. It started in Ireland but there they carved either turnips or rutabagas. Pumpkins are more readily available here so when the tradition moved to the US, that’s what they used. (Pumpkins are also much easier to carve than turnips or rutabagas. Trust me.) The legends about why it’s called a Jack O’ Lantern are myriad. You can read some of them on Wikipedia.
Even if you don’t have children in the house, indulge your creative spirit and carve a pumpkin this year. I know a lot of folks make a yummy pumpkin pie from the scooped-out meat, but don’t throw those seeds away! Gently wash them, spread in one layer on a cookie sheet and dry in the oven on the lowest temperature you can for a couple of hours, stirring every now and again. They’ll feel a little less hard than a dried sunflower seed when done.
Pumpkin seeds are a great low-cal snack (tasty even without salt) and are rich in many minerals. They are also good for expelling internal worms. If you or your child above the age of 5 get worms (scary, but it’s a widespread problem), crush 1-2 tablespoons of raw seeds and mix with honey, giving 3 doses at 2 hour intervals. Don’t use this on younger kids. If your pet gets worms, grind up some raw seeds and add to his or her food. Garlic in a pet’s food is also good for worms (especially as a preventive measure) – if you can get them to eat it.
Magically, pumpkin is used for protection – and I’ll bet this stems from the “scary face to ward off evil spirits”. If you’ve got a problem, I suggest once the pumpkin has done its duty on your front porch that you cut off and dry a piece of it to carry in your pocket.
I don’t carve up a vegetable this time of year unless I’m planning on making stew. (My artistic abilities are rather limited.) I do, however, have a lit candle at the door to invite the well-behaved spirits to visit for awhile on Samhain. It’s a wonderful evening and I’m looking forward to it again this year.