Jack-o’-lantern is a squash of all trades


When you take your kids on their favorite trick-or-treating routes, you just know which homes are inviting you to their candy orgy and which ones have opted out of the pagan tradition. The glowing jack-o’-lanterns with the gallery of carved-out faces from grumpy and goofy to happy and hung-over gourds barfing up their own seeds have become the welcoming symbols of Halloween.

“Halloween” translates to “All Hallows Eve,” a twisted version of “All Hollows Day,” the Catholic Church’s observance honoring dead saints.

The history of Halloween dates back to the fifth century B.C. in Ireland when the Celts observed their new year on Oct. 31. Folklore has it that on that day, they believed spirits of those who died the previous year would come back to Earth in search of a living body to possess. The Celts would snuff out all their household fires, carve out turnips or gourds, and place a piece of burning coal inside. These glowing jack-o’-lanterns were set on porches to ward off evil spirits and embrace deceased loved ones.

Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine that ravaged their country transported the concept of Halloween to America in the 1840s. They also brought along an apocryphal story about a prankster named Jack who tricked Satan into climbing into a tree hollow shaped like a cross. When Jack died, he was denied access to heaven since he was a trickster, and of course, he was barred from hell, too. Caught in the black abyss, the devil gave Jack an ember placed inside a hollowed-out turnip, an ancient flashlight so he could see his way through the darkness. When Halloween made its way to America, the plentiful pumpkin replaced the turnip for creating jack-o’-lanterns.

‘Ye ol’ pumpkin patch

Pumpkins have been grown in America for more than 5,000 years, and North American Indians ate pumpkin flesh even before the Pilgrims, calling their precious staple “isquotm squash.” They used the seeds for medicinal and cosmetic purposes, including a treatment for snake bites and freckle removal, and even utilized the skins by drying them out and weaving them into mats.

The first pumpkin pie was created by the colonists, who lopped off the top of the pumpkin, scooped out the seeds, filled the squash with milk, spices and honey and roasted it in a dying fire pit.

Pumpkins can be baked, mashed, boiled, grilled, made into hot or chilled soups, incorporated into bread puddings, sweet pecan breads and savory risottos or used to make an autumnal martini or wine.

The flesh of this fruit, although 90 percent water, is a good fiber source loaded with potassium and vitamins A and B, as well as a triple dose of heart-healthy carotenoids (beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lutein) also found to have anti-carcinogen and anti-aging properties. The seeds are packed with iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium while the flowers are edible, too.

Toasted Pecan Pumpkin Risotto

  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4-5 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 small, sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 small yellow pepper, diced
  • 8 ounces of pumpkin puree
  • 8 ounces of toasted pecan pieces
  • 1 -2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • Black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet and saute the onions and peppers until tender. Add the rice, coating the grains with the oil. Stir in the wine over medium heat until absorbed. Cook for 20 minutes, adding the seasonings, pumpkin puree and remaining liquid a cup at a time. Remove from heat. Garnish with the toasted pecan pieces and drizzle with the maple syrup.