Happy pumpkin day! Yes, there seems to be a day to celebrate just about everything – pumpkins included. Let’s start at the very beginning. The word itself has its roots in the Greek word that means “large melon.” Yes, large indeed. Pumpkins, however, are part of the squash family. They are native to the Americas and evidence of its use date back more than 5,000 years.
While we may refer to pumpkins as vegetable, they are actually fruit according to botanists (it has to do with the fact that pumpkins grow from the seed-bearing structure of flowering plants). Yet no matter the classification, pumpkins are good for you. They are a good source of beta-carotene, fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. Plus, they are filling, which is perhaps one of the reasons they were a staple food for ancient people.
The natural question now is, why do we carve them? Blame the Irish. The story dates back to the 1500s and a myth about a man named Stingy Jack. According to the story, Jack played tricks on everyone, including the devil. Ultimately, he was denied entry into both heaven and hell as a result of his antics, and was left to roam the world as a ghost. He was given a lump of coal from the devil, which he placed inside a carved turnip and used as a lantern. The Irish then carved turnips, beets, and potatoes (with burning lumps of coal inside them to add light) to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. When Irish and Scottish immigrants came to the New World, they found that pumpkins were perfect for carving.
Aside from Jack-o-lanterns, pumpkins also make good pies, stews, and even smoothies (seriously). Of course, you can roast the seeds too. But if you don’t want to use your old pumpkin yourself, you can donate it to zoos, animal shelters, farms, or community gardens. Or, leave it in the yard for the wildlife!