Why pumpkins on Halloween?

Of Irish tradition, legend has it that Jack O’Lantern, an Irishman of dubious reputation, thanks to his fondness for alcohol and his stinginess, had an encounter with the devil the night of October 31. That night Jack gave up his soul in exchange for a coin to pay for one more drink, the devil transformed into her without thinking that he would end up in that drunkard’s pocket along with the crucifix he was carrying.

Jack traded freedom from the devil in exchange for having his soul for 10 more years, and so it was. After this time the meeting was repeated. Although Jack had it all planned; The meeting took place in the field and he asked her to bring him an apple from a nearby tree from which he would have carved a cross. The devil unknowingly went to get the apple getting trapped in the tree, so he made the devil promise that I would never ask for his soul. He accepted, and released him.

Years later Jack finally died, but since his life had not been exactly exemplary, he could not enter heaven. So he tried to enter hell, but the devil rejected him for the deal they had come to, forcing him to wander the world of the living.

Typical Irish jack o’lantern made from a turnip. Museum of Country Life, Turlough (Ireland). Photo: rannṗáirtí anaiṫnid

Since the way back was quite dark, the devil gave Jack a burning coal for the light to guide him in the dark. So that she would not go out, legend has it, that Jack decided to put her inside a turnip so that she would not go out with the wind…

turnips and pumpkins

Thus began in Ireland, and to a lesser extent in Great Britain, the tradition of jack o’lanternslanterns made of turnips that were placed to decorate houses on the eve of All Saints, which is what Halloween originally means (a contraction of “All Hallows Eve”). The vegetable with an engraved face symbolized the protagonist of the story (jack of the lantern, Lantern Jack) who, with his cunning, had kept the Devil himself away from him. According to ancient Celtic beliefs, on that night supernatural beings roamed the world of the living, a belief that persisted even after centuries of Christianity, which is why people believed that those grotesque amulets they would keep evil spirits away from their homes.

"The Headless Knight chasing Ichabod Crane" (1858), John Quidor. Photo: Smithsonian American Art Museum
“The Headless Knight Pursuing Ichabod Crane” (1858), John Quidor. Photo: Smithsonian American Art Museum

The tradition was brought to the United States by Irish emigrants who, beginning in the 19th century, had settled in the United States in large numbers. There it was mixed with a local custom: children hollowed out pumpkins and they drilled holes at the level of the eyes to use them as masks. This practice has already been documented even before the publication of Jack’s story: it was published in 1836, but in 1834 pumpkin-based masks were already mentioned. The reason is due, once again, to literature: in 1820 it was published the washington irving story The Legend of Sleepy Hollowa gothic tale about the ghost of a Revolutionary War soldier who supposedly rides through the night in search of his missing head, using a pumpkin instead until he can find it.

Both customs were mixed and, thus, the turnips with which the jack o’lanterns they were replaced by pumpkins. The vegetable is native to North America and already had a great presence in the country’s gastronomy: in this way, when emptying it, the interior was used to prepare typical pumpkin-based dishessuch as cakes or cookies. Although turnips and other vegetables continued to be used, in the end it was this that endured in the tradition and that, almost two centuries later, has become the symbol of Halloween.

Pumpkin properties

The pumpkin is the berry fruit of the pumpkin, of the family of cucurbits. It is very rich in fiber, which helps regulate intestinal transit, and nutrients such as vitamins. B1,B2, B3, B6 and B9 or folic acid, Vitamin C and fat soluble vitamins a and e. The main component of pumpkin is water and it has almost no fat, making it a low-calorie food, ideal for weight control diets. The pumpkin has in its composition minerals such as potassium (necessary for the transmission and generation of the nerve impulse and to maintain normal muscle activity), phosphorus and magnesium.

The most used in the kitchen is the common pumpkin, cucurbita maximum. The shape of the fruit can be spherical and flattened or oval and elongated and the color of its orange, yellow, green, white, black and even purple rind. Its pulp is orange or yellowish, and it is full of seeds in its central part, which also provide a large number of beneficial properties.

Pumpkin in phytotherapy

In phytotherapy the part that is used are the hulled seeds, without its outermost part. Among their components we can find proteins (30-34%) with rare amino acids such as cucurbitincarbohydrates (6-10%) and mineral materials (3-4%) such as phosphorus, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and, especially, selenium. 0.5% is made up of sterols. Also note the amount of fatty acids (45-50%), mainly unsaturated such as linoleic and oleic, and saturated such as palmitic and stearic.

Thanks to all these components, pumpkin can offer us different health benefits:

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approves the traditional use of pumpkin seeds to treat micturition discomfort associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia and unstable bladder.

SCOP (European Scientific Cooperative On Phytotherapy) specifies that its use in benign prostatic hyperplasia is limited to mild or moderate conditions.

The European Commission also approves its use in intestinal parasitosis.

Source: National Geographic

Why pumpkins on Halloween?