Plant Answers  >  Pumpkin Halloween
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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 growing vines.

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 before opening.

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.


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