Home Grown Jack-o-Lanterns (and Pumpkin Pies)
I love Halloween – the air is crisp, walkways are lit with jack-o-lanterns, adorably costumed kids traipse neighborhoods demanding candy, and adults are allowed to let their freak flags fly – sitting in an office cube dressed as a banana (it’s the last minute costume buys you always regret).
Don’t be last minute this year – it’s never too early to start planning your costume and planting your pumpkins to make your very own, home-grown jack-o-lantern (and pumpkin pies, and pumpkin cheesecake bars, and … the list goes on over at BHG.com). Northerners may be out of luck on this one, but for us in the southern states, the Farmer’s Almanac notes: “pumpkins require a lot of food and a long growing season (generally from 75 to 100 frost-free days) so you need to plant them by late May in northern locations to early July in extremely southern states.”
While the modern day jack-o-lantern is very American, the pumpkin being native to North America, the first jack-o-lantern was carved in Ireland, based on the legend of Stingy Jack and his drink with the devil. Tradition has it that after Jack tricked the devil time and again, Jack’s ghost was banished from both heaven and hell, and was sent off into “the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as ‘Jack of the Lantern, and then, simply ‘Jack O’Lantern.’”
According to History.com, “in Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins … make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.”
Pumpkins are also peculiarly American as they want wide open spaces to flourish, but don’t worry if your outdoor space is too small for your pumpkins to spread their vines – you can also grow pumpkins in big 5 to 10 gallon buckets, or opt for the miniature varieties. I can already see the Pinterest photos of mini-jack-o-lanterns lighting the walkways for wee trick-or-treaters. Check out the Almanac for growing tips, and tweet us photos of your favorite jack-o-lantern or pumpkin recipe: @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.
Photo credit: Playing in the Dirt