It is spook time in Texas! On Halloween every kid in the
world will dress up as ugly as possible in hopes of scaring
fellow uglies. Often the scarer becomes the scaree but who
cares, it's Halloween!
The Celtic festival of Samhain most likely is the source
of the present day Halloween celebration. More than 2,000
years ago, the Celts lived in what is now Great Britain,
Ireland, and France. They celebrated their new year on November
1 with a festival that began the night before honoring Samhain,
the Celtic Lord of Death. This festival also marked the
start of cold, darkness, and decay; therefore, it quickly
became associated with human death. The Celts believed that
Samhain allowed the souls of the dead to return to their
earthly homes for this one evening.
During the celebration, the people wore costumes made of
animal heads and skins. They told fortunes about the coming
years by examining the remains of the animals that had been
sacrificed. When the Romans conquered the Celts in 43 A.D.,
they combined several Roman autumn festivals with the Celtic
festival of Samhain.
After the conquered people became Christians, they were
allowed to keep many of the Celtic customs. In about 800
A.D., the Church started All Saints Day on November first
so that all people could continue to celebrate a festival
they had enjoyed before becoming Christians. The Mass that
was said on this day was called Allhallowmas. The evening
before became known as All Hallowsen or Halloween.
Hollowed-out-pumpkins, called jack-o-lanterns can be traced
back to the people in Ireland and England who carved out
beets, potatoes, and turnips to use as lanterns on this
festive occasion. They were named for a miser named Jack
who could not enter heaven and played jokes on the devil.
No Halloween is complete without the eerie glow of a pumpkin
face in the window. This single day has made pumpkin production
a booming business. It's doubtful whether large scale pumpkin
production would exist without Halloween ? pumpkin pie is
not that great!
Fairy tales and legends from America and other countries
contain many references to the pumpkin. There is the episode
in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in which the
ghostly character lifts his pumpkin head from the pommel
of his saddle and hurlsit at the fleeing Ichabod Crane.
In a legend of India, a devoted father used a large pumpkin
as a tomb for his only son. In time, the pumpkin was found
to be filled with water in which swam large fish. Intent
on harvesting the fish, four brothers lifted the pumpkin
to carry it away but became frightened and dropped it. From
the resulting cracks in the pumpkin shell, a flood of water
poured out to inundate the earth.
The pumpkin achieved a romantic high when one of its oversized
brothers served as a golden coach for Cinderella. It also
must have been a sizable pumpkin shell which Peter the Pumpkin
Eater confined his wandering wife. Regardless of whether
one of the legends or Linus sitting in the pumpkin patch
waiting for the "Great Pumpkin" to appear has
stimulated the use of pumpkins at Halloween, this overgrown
squash that we call a pumpkin is in real demand about this
time of the year. The question always arises, why don't
gardeners grow their own?
Certain problems arise in trying to produce pumpkins for
Halloween. Pumpkin production is easier said than done which
is exactly why even the most professional green thumbers
purchase imported pumpkins. What is the problem? The first
reason that pumpkins are in fact difficult to grow is that
they are long season crops. Pumpkins require a minimum of
three to four months to mature a fruit - the bigger the
pumpkin desired, the longer the maturity season needed.
Pumpkins are also frost susceptible and are easily damaged
by cold temperatures. This means planting must occur after
the last killing frost and maturity will be sometimes in
mid-summer. Then you will have to store the pumpkins from
mid-summer to late October.
For those who now accuse me of being a dumb Aggie for not
recommending waiting to plant until July so that maturity
and harvest can occur in October, think again! Even though
pumpkin seeds germinate best at a soil temperature of about
95 degrees F., there is another pumpkin disaster just waiting
to happen when the plants pop?up ? vine borers. In the fall,
these killers are so efficient that many plants are destroyed
before leaves are formed. The cost of insecticides required
to protect the plants for three months during such an onslaught
far exceeds what a pumpkin will cost. In addition, these
pumpkin plants are readily infected with virus and fungus
diseases that are abundant during Texas in mid?summer and
renders pumpkin production almost impossible in many areas
of our state.
Suppose that you want the challenge of fall pumpkin production
? if the vine borers and the mosaic virus don't get you,
the space requirement might. Pumpkin vines are gigantic!
Even with five feet between plants on beds which are at
least 12 feet apart, these super growers may become crowded.
These spacing dimensions mean that a "hill" of
pumpkins requires at least 60 square feet. Some gardens
aren't that big!
Obviously this profuse growth is a basis for another pumpkin
legend which concerns a youth named Jack who mounted his
horse on a spring day to plant pumpkins. Although he spurred
his mount at top speed and dropped the seed in previously
prepared hills, he was unable to keep ahead of the fast
So as you can imagine, pumpkin production should be left
to growers with large acreages. Gardeners can still enjoy
the large squash called pumpkin at this time of the year
when a mere vegetable becomes a magical and scary item in
your youngster's imaginations.
For those of you who want to make something decent out
of all that pumpkin scrapings, try Diane Sutton's Pecan
Pumpkin Pie recipe ?? it's so good, it's spooky! Ingredients:
three eggs; one cup of pumpkin (fresh or canned); one?third
cup of sugar; one teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (may use
one teaspoon cinnamon, one?fourth teaspoon ginger, one?fourth
teaspoon cloves, one?fourth teaspoon nutmeg); two?thirds
cup corn syrup (light); one?half cup of sugar; three tablespoons
of melted oleo; one?half teaspoon vanilla; one cup pecans;
one unbaked nine?inch pie shell. Stir together one egg (slightly
beat), one cup of pumpkin, one?third cup sugar, and the
pie spice to make a pumpkin mixture. Spread over bottom
of pie shell. Combine two eggs, corn syrup, one?half cup
sugar, oleo and vanilla. Stir in the pecans. Spoon over
pumpkin mixture described above. Bake at 350 degrees F.
for 50 minutes or until set. Pecan halves make prettier
presentation; pecan pieces makes it easier to cut. (When
using fresh pumpkin, to cook the pumpkin, remove all seed
and membrane and use a knife to remove the outer skin. Cut
into one?inch cubes and cook until tender in a small amount
of water. Drain the water, mash the pumpkin and strain it
through a colander or sieve.) Regardless, this recipe will
at least make pumpkin edible. Who knows? You may even be
glad that Halloween happened this year!
Why not pickle some pumpkins? Don't have a good recipe?
Here it is:
One 7-10 pounds pumpkin 6 cinnamon sticks
5 pounds sugar (white or mixed) 1/4 tsp. mustard seed
1/3 cup lemon juice 1 tbsp. whole cloves
1 quart white vinegar 1 tsp. whole allspice
1 pint water 1 tsp. powdered alum
Peel pumpkin, clean insides of seeds, skin and cut into
1" x 1 and 1/2" cubes. Boil in large pot with
alum for 10 minutes. Drain and soak in water with ice in
it until cold. Drain well on towels for at least 2 hours.
For syrup, mix sugar, water, vinegar, lemon and spices
in 2 gallon kettle. Simmer syrup 15 minutes, add pumpkin;
stir and cook 15?45 minutes, until desired flavor is reached.
This recipe fills 6-8 pint jars. Cover with syrup, process
in hot water bath 20 minutes or refrigerate. Store 30 days
If you want a clear syrup on your pickles, use only white
sugar and keep spices in a gauze bag you can remove before
putting pickles in jars. I wonder if burning a candle in
the pumpkin jack-o-lantern all night before pickling will
give the pickles a smoked flavor?
Want to try some pumpkin bread? Click here.