Fiction or truth. Folklore versus pie. Let’s do both! We live in a perpetual pumpkin patch. The big orange guys can be found in food marts, vegetable stands, most fall events, and along the rural roadside. A great trip-for-a-day in search of the great pumpkin!

The Irish began to refer to this eerie figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, just "Jack O'Lantern." A very popular character in Irish folk tales was Stingy Jack, a famous cheapskate who, on several occasions, avoided losing his soul to the devil by tricking him (often on All Hallows' Eve). In one story, he “convinced Satan to climb up a tree for some apples, and then cut crosses all around the trunk so the devil couldn't climb down. The devil promised to leave Jack alone forever, if he would only let him out of the tree.

When Jack eventually died, he was turned away from Heaven, due to his life of sin. But, in keeping with their agreement, the Devil wouldn't take Jack, either. He was cursed to travel forever as a spirit in limbo. As Jack left the gates of Hell, the Devil threw him a hot ember to light the way in the dark. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed-out turnip, and wandered off into the world. According to the Irish legend, you might see Jack's spirit on All Hallows' Eve, still carrying his turnip lantern through the darkness.”

Traditional jack-o'-lanterns, hollowed-out turnips with embers or candles inside, became a very popular Halloween decoration in Ireland and Scotland a few hundred years ago. Folk lore held that they would ward off Stingy Jack and other spirits on Halloween, and they also served as representations of the souls of the dead. Irish families who immigrated to America brought the tradition with them.

When choosing a pumpkin to use as decoration choose one that is free from cuts, soft spots, bruises, and with the stem attached. The flesh of the pumpkin should feel solid. Cure a fresh-picked pumpkin by keeping it in a dry place, and do not handle or disturb it. Curing toughens the rind which makes it less prone to rot.  Pumpkins will keep for months in a cool, dry, low humidity environment.

Pumpkin for a pie? You need a small, sweeter type of pumpkin that has been grown for eating;   about 8" to 10" diameter. One-half cup of cooked pumpkin provides more than the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains only eighty-one calories. It's low in fat and sodium, and is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron. Pumpkins are native to North America.  

When finished with your pumpkin: Put it in the compost heap - it will make good fertilizer. Bury it in the garden - it will decay quickly and enrich the soil. Wash, dry and save the seeds to plant next year. Wash and roast the seeds — they make good eating. Or, put it in the trash!