Pumpkins come from North America and scientists believe they have been grown there for at least 7500 years.
The name ‘pumpkin’ originated from the Greek word ‘pepon’, which means ‘a large melon’. It was changed by the French into ‘pompon’, and the English changed it to ‘pumpion’. The word ‘pumpkin’ was created by American colonists.
Native Americans had used pumpkin as a staple in their diets for centuries before the colonists’ arrival. They also used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine.
White settlers also included the vegetable in their diets, as it was tasty, nutritious and easy to grow.
Pumpkins are particularly popular around Halloween, when they are harvested and used to carve jack-o-lanterns. However, originally other vegetables, such as potatoes, beets and turnips were used to make them because pumpkins were not known in Europe at that time!
The practice originated from an Irish legend about a man nicknamed ‘Stingy Jack’.
According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he asked the devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay for their drinks. When the devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket, together with a silver cross – which stopped the devil from returning to his original form. Jack freed the devil under the condition that he would not bother him for one year and that he would not claim his soul after Jack’s death. The following year Jack tricked the devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, the sly man carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the devil could not come down until he promised Jack not to bother him for another ten years.
When Jack died, God did not allow him into heaven. The devil kept his promise not to claim Jack’s soul and he did not allow him into hell either. Instead, he sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish called the ghost ‘Jack of the Lantern’, and then ‘Jack O’Lantern’.
In Ireland, Scotland and England, people started making their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips, potatoes or large beets and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other evil spirits. Irish immigrants brought the jack-o-lantern tradition to the United States, however, the original vegetables were soon replaced with pumpkins which turned out to be perfect for this purpose. The tradition later spread to many other parts of the world including Poland!