In America, pumpkins paint the fall season orange and perfume the autumn air with spice, though a pumpkin of any other color—from white to blue—would smell as sweet.
It’s hard not to think of the classic round and ribbed fruit when it comes to fall festivities, from carving pumpkins to baking holiday pies. Yet, early Jack-o’-lanterns were actually carved from turnips and potatoes by Celtic cultures on All Hallows’ Eve as a way to ward off evil spirits—especially Stingy Jack. According to Irish legend, Stingy Jack was a dishonest blacksmith who took pleasure in playing tricks and managed to con the Devil himself into promising not to take his soul upon his death. Unwelcome in both heaven and hell, Stingy Jack was cursed to wander the earth with nothing but a burning coal, which he placed inside a carved-out turnip. He became known as “Jack of the lantern” or “Jack-o’-lantern” for short. When Irish immigrants came to America, they found that the pumpkin, an American native, made for the perfect Jack-o’-lantern with its large size and hollow cavity.
As pumpkins are one of America’s oldest native crops, we often imagine the Pilgrims passing round pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving, except their predecessor to our sweetened pumpkin pastry looked quite different. They would slice off the pumpkin top, scoop out the seeds, fill the inside with cream, honey, eggs, and spices, then replace the top and bury it in hot ashes to bake. When ready, the contents, including the cooked flesh along the shell, were scooped out and eaten much like custard.
This holiday season, why not opt for a retro twist on your modern tradition—ditch the canned purée and revive your recipe with fresh pumpkin, from the sweet and smooth Sugar Pie variety to the French heirloom favorite, the Fairy Tale pumpkin. This old-school approach will bring new flavor to the table that your tastebuds will surely be thankful for!
Craving more juicy details? Download the Specialty Produce App to explore new recipes and indulge in the rich history and culture of all your fall favorites!