What comes to mind when you see a pumpkin?

Halloween, I’m sure. How did this Native American plant become a symbol for this Old World holiday?

What would Halloween be without the smiling countenance of a Jack-O-Lantern to scare away ghosts and goblins? Many vegetables are ready for harvest in the fall, so how did the pumpkin become king of the fall season? Part can be traced to the Native Americans who cultivated pumpkins along with other winter squash like the green stripped cushaw and butternut squash. With their thick rinds, nutritious seeds and tasty flesh they made an ideal storage crop with a history of cultivation dating back more than 3,000 years.

Early colonists learned to cultivate pumpkins from the Native Americans and the vegetable became part of the fall harvest season. But to turn it into a Jack-O-Lantern, we have to go to Ireland where the Irish hollowed out large Swede turnips and carved hideous faces in them. Lit with a candle and placed on the doorstep they warded of evil spirits on all Hallows Eve. The new world pumpkin, with its larger size, bright orange color and easy to hollow out seed cavity made it an easy replacement for the turnip. Pumpkins now come in all sizes from the pocket-sized Jack Be Little to the enormous Dills Atlantic Giant with the 2010 record weight of 1,725 pounds.

 Both varieties are grown at Farmpark’s Planters Overlook gardens along with many other types of pumpkins and squashes.

Check out the Corn and Pumpkin Harvest Weekend at Lake Metroparks Farmpark October 8 & 9, 2011.

(Article submitted by our Friends at Lake Metroparks.)

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