Pumpkins: From Humble Crop To Jack-O’-Lanterns

I love Halloween; I always have, always will. Now that I have kids, I adore this spooky time of year even more. From decorating the house with creepy skeletons, witches, and vampires to carving pumpkins, costumes, and trick or treating, we make the most of Halloween. Recently, I wondered why the tradition calls for carved pumpkins, so I did a little digging to find out more about the orange gourd’s significance this time of year.

Why Do We Carve Pumpkins?

We have early Irish immigrants to the United States to thank for introducing us to jack-o’-lanterns, though they weren’t always made of pumpkins.

Irish folklore tells the tale of a blacksmith named Jack who tricked the devil more than twice. When he died, he couldn’t get into heaven or hell.


When the devil told Jack to hit the road, he gave him a burning ember. Jack carried the piece of coal in a hollowed-out turnip. The Irish called this character “Jack of the Lantern” and eventually, “Jack-o’lantern,” reenacting the story each year by carving faces in turnips or potatoes and lighting them up with embers.

When the Irish came to the U.S., they realized pumpkins were more available than turnips (and were easier to hollow out), so they made the switch. The rest is history!

Did You Know?

Pumpkins have been around for a long time. It’s believed the gourds were first grown in Central America over 7,500 years ago!

Pumpkins were some of the first crops grown for human consumption in North America thanks to their thick, sweet-tasting flesh and excellent shelf-life after harvest. Storing pumpkins throughout the winter meant there was always something to eat in times of scarcity.

A Whole Lot of Pumpkin

In the United States alone, over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin are produced every year! The U.K. grows 15 million pumpkins annually.

According to the Guinness World Records, the heaviest pumpkin ever weighed in at 2,624.6 lbs and was grown by Mathias Willemijns in Germany in 2016.

The largest pumpkin pie ever? I’m glad you asked. That honor goes to the New Bremen Giant Pumpkin Growers in Ohio, who in 2010 made a pie that weighed 3,699 lbs and had a diameter of 20 feet. Yum!

Great Gourds

However you decide to carve your pumpkin this year, please remember this gorgeous gourd is entirely edible and delicious in so many ways.

From the seeds to the flesh, pumpkin is highly nutritious and is excellent in soups, stews, muffins, and other baked goods.

Too many pumpkins go to waste each year, so while you’re planning a spooky face to carve, consider how you can use this squash in your next meal, too.

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Catherine Sherriffs

Editor at Garden Culture Magazine

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her three young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.