How many of us know that Halloween is a festival that originates in our own lovely country?
Ireland, a land steeped in rich, pre-Christian history, has many traditions connected to Samhain, or All Saints Eve. It used to be turnips that were carved with demonic faces meant to scare Stinging Jack, who had tricked the devil in return for the promise of riches. When Jack eventually died, God wouldn’t let him through the pearly gates and there was no way the devil was letting him into hell, so he was doomed to roam in limbo forever.
When Irish immigrants arrived in America, pumpkins had to take the place of turnips, which weren’t native to the region — and so the jack-o’-lantern as we know it was created.
Pumpkins and squashes (both the gourd family) are much more than decorations, of course, and come in countless strange and unusually shaped varieties — from pattypans (squashes) that resemble UFOs, to Crown Prince pumpkins, which are wonderfully dense for cooking; and my favourite, the Uchiki Kuri (a squash), with its burnt-orange skin and intensely hued flesh.
If you didn’t plant your own pumpkin patch, then there are many great spots to roam and pick a gourd or two, such as Ballycross Apple Farm in Bridgetown, Co Wexford. Alright Pumpkin in Fordstown, Co Meath, has Pick Your Own pumpkin and corn, while at Tinahely Farm in Co Wicklow, the pumpkin field has tractor and trailer rides.
The charmingly named Granny Rosie’s Farm in Skerries, Co Dublin, welcomes all the family to enjoy pumpkin picking. This year, Farmer Matt is raising money for cancer research.
Don’t forget to make the most of pumpkin season by making delicious soups and stews using the flesh of the fruit. Roast them in chunks with a drizzle of olive oil and honey, or bake into breads and sweet, sticky cakes.