Pumpkins, squash and gourds (the ones with yellow blossoms) are New World foods. Native Americans used them in companion plantings with corn and beans to provide a sustainable ecosystem called ‘Three Sisters’. They are high in beta carotene, Vitamin A and C, along with lots of dietary fiber. I love to roast mine to bring out the sweetness, and then cube the pumpkin and add it to my “Three Sisters” dish of grilled corn, red beans and pumpkin. Winter squash make wonderful soups, stuffings, and flavorings. Pumpkin is associated with all of our Fall festivals, from spooky Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns to Harvest Festivals and Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie. In recent years, “pumpkin flavored everything” has been a hallmark of a season stretching from Labor Day to Valentine’s Day.
Where did we get the tradition of carving pumpkins, and what do you do with the insides? Here is the story, and a recipe.
The Story of Jack’s Lantern
There once was a man named Jack. Jack was not a very good man, and he didn’t mind that one bit. He would lie, cheat, steal, and never give it a second thought. One day Jack was walking down the road and he happened upon the Devil. The Devil knew Jack’s reputation and figured it was time for him to collect a soul and take it south with him.
The Devil said,”Hello, Jack. It is time you come with me.” Now Jack didn’t think that was such a good idea, so he said, “Well now, I don’t think I’m quite ready for that. What if I propose a wager?” Now, the Devil likes a good wager, and he knew he would win, so he agreed. “What did you have in mind, Jack?”
Jack says,”I’ll bet you that I can climb to the top of that tree faster than you!” The Devil knows he’s a pretty good climber, but he says, “What’s in it for me?”
Jack says,”If you win, I’ll come along with you. But if I win, you let me go on about my way.” “Simple enough,” says the Devil. “You go first,” says Jack.
So lickety-split, the Devil climbs to the top of a tall pine tree, faster than lightning. Jack says, “That sure was fast!” as he saunters over to the trunk of the tree. He takes out his pocket knife and while the Devil enjoying the view, Jack carves the sign of the Cross in the bark. The Devil was trapped! Jack waves and strolls on his way. The Devil was sure mad, but he knew all he had to do was wait to get his revenge.
In the fullness of time, Jack shuffled off the mortal coil. Thinking himself a pretty good guy, he goes up to the Pearly Gates and rings the bell. St. Peter takes one look at him and says “What are you doing here?” Jack says, “I’ve come to get my wings!” St. Peter just laughs at him and says, “There is no room for you here, you did nothing good your entire life. You will have to go to the Devil for comfort!” Well, Jack didn’t think that was quite fair, but he headed down to see his old friend. At least he hoped he wasn’t still sore about that bet…
The Devil remembered Jack all right, and not too fondly either. He said, “You think I’m going to let you in here? With all my lovely brimstone and fire? You aren’t welcome in my realm!” Jack pleaded with the Devil. Can you imagine being in such a position as to have to plead with the Devil to let you in and give you shelter? The Devil was unmoved. Jack said, “You can’t let me wander alone through Limbo in the dark forever!” So the Devil took pity on Jack and gave him one single coal.
Now Jack just happened to be eating a turnip at the time, so he took a great big bite out of the turnip and put the coal into the hole. He uses that coal to light his way through eternity, and it has come to be known as Jack’s Lantern.
This story comes from Ireland, where they have lots of turnips. When Irish immigrants to this continent arrived, they didn’t find many turnips, but they did find large, orange, hollow gourds – pumpkins! The pumpkin is lots easier to carve than a turnip! So when you carve your lantern out of a pumpkin, you are helping to light Jack’s way, making a Jack-o-Lantern!
Clean seeds out of the squash and place in a colander. Rinse and work with your fingers to remove strings.
Cover a cookie sheet or flat roasting pan with aluminum foil.
While still moist, spread the seeds over the foil. Do not use oil!
Sprinkle the seeds with the spices as a mixture or one at a time. Use a wooden spoon to stir the seeds to coat. Place in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir. They will be sticking to the foil, but slight pressure releases them. Toast for 5 more minutes or until you start to hear them crack. Remove and let cool. Can be stored at room temperature. Eat seeds, shells and all.