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Why do we carve out pumpkins at Halloween?

October 30, 2010

Why do we carve pumpkins at HalloweenPart 3 of 3 in the week of pumpkins……..

History and legend surrounds the story about this annual ritual and there are many variations of the reasoning behind it, but most of them agree – there was a mean, stingy man who lived in Ireland years ago named Jack, and he did a deal with the Devil. This is one of the tales ………

The story goes that Jack had stolen some property from some villagers and was being run out-of-town. As he was making his escape he met the Devil who told him it was time for Jack to die. However, Jack had the gift of the gab and managed to persuade the Devil that he knew of a way that he would be able to have some fun and torment the God-loving villagers instead.

Jack persuaded the Devil to turn into a coin and Jack would then use that coin to pay for the stolen goods. The idea being that as the Devil was able to change shape whenever he wanted, as soon as the villagers had possession of the coin it would disappear, and the villagers would then fight among themselves, blaming each other as to whom had stolen it.

The Devil agreed and turned himself into a coin that Jack then placed into his wallet. It was only when he was in the wallet that the Devil found he was nestled next to a cross that Jack had also picked up in the village.  The cross stripped him of all his powers.

Jack being a trickster agreed that he would only let the Devil go if he agreed never to take his soul.

Several years later the villain died. As he made his way to the Gates of Heaven he was turned away, he had led too bad a life to be allowed into Heaven. So he made his way to the gates of Hell instead, but of course the Devil had promised not to take Jack’s soul and he therefore barred him from entering there too.

Jack was trapped with nowhere to go. It was dark and he asked the Devil how he would see as he had no light. The legend claims that he was tossed a light from the embers that would never burn out as it was from the flames of hell.

Turnips were apparently one of Jack’s favourite foods in the living world so he carved one out, placed the ember inside and began to wander the Earth, looking for a place to rest.  From that time on he became known as Jack of the Lantern.

Why do we carve pumpkins at HalloweenThe tradition of carving a swede or turnip seems to have originated in Ireland and they were left on the doorsteps of houses on All Hallow’s Eve as an ‘offering’, or a treat, to prevent spirits playing tricks. Pumpkins were more readily available in America and were generally used there instead.

*Samhain (pronounced sauwain)

The 31st October – Samhain (or Halloween as we now seem to call it), stems from the belief that the Celtic year begins (as life begins) in the dark (in the womb). It’s a threshold time in the Celtic calendar when the veil between this world and the Otherworld, where the dead and supernatural beings live, becomes permeable and the beings that inhabit it can walk among mortals.

It’s a time with the Sidhe, (the Good Folk, Little People or Tuatha De Danann), move from their summer residences to their winter homes. (Farmers today will still not farm land that has Fairy Forts for fear of upsetting the Little People.) The Sidhe can be seen riding in procession from one Fairy Fort (or rath) to another across the fields.

It’s traditional to put out a bowl of milk or a piece of cake for Sidhe as they pass by.

In the old times all crops  had to be gathered in before Samhain and no berries were picked as it was believed that the Pooka would spit on them.  The last sheaf from the harvest was named the Hag (or Cailleach), who was formally revered as the crone aspect of the Celtic triple goddess, but has now dwindled into the figure of the witch.

*Reference : Celebrating Irish Festivals by Ruth Marshall

Food & Drink

Pumpkin Rice and Pumpkin Soup Recipes

October 27, 2010

It’s that time of year when we’re all scooping out the flesh of our juicy pumpkins and wondering what to do with them. Here’s a couple of our favourite recipe ideas…..

Like many of you I have a bookshelf full of cookbooks. I love cookbooks.  A good cook book is my ideal Christmas present.  I can curl up by the fire on Christmas day whilst the Children are watching a movie and lose myself in a book full of delicious sounding foods.

I especially like the books with a bit of a story to tell. Explanations on basic techniques for example, or in the case of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Everyday book, learning lost techniques.

A couple of times, when I’ve been feeling a bit cheeky, I buy my hubby a cook book too (which is a bit like buying myself an unofficial present.)

The first time I wasn’t sure of the reaction but as he’s a big fan of Rivercottage I took the risk and bought him the Everyday cookbook mentioned above.  To my slight surprise he absolutely loved it – told his friends about it (it seems that men don’t just talk about football!), and loves choosing and cooking recipes from it. One of his top 5 recipes of all time comes from this book – Beef with Soy Sauce and Ginger, and some of our friends that he’s cooked it for loved it too! 

Recently, instead of the noodles recommended with this dish, he tried out another recipe from the second cook book I bought him: Pumpkin Rice from Caribbean Food Made Easy by Levi Roots.  This is a great alternative to the usual soups and roasting methods we’ve used in the past for the pumpkin flesh as the flavours are very delicate. This is the recipe as written by Levi in his book.


Available from Amazon

Pumpkin Rice (serves 8-9)

550ml (just under a pint) water
400g (14oz) pumpkin flesh, deseeded and cut into small chunks
2-3 sprigs of thyme
1 tsp salt
450g (1lb) basmati rice
15g (1/2oz) butter

1. Put the water, pumpkin, 2 sprigs of thyme and salt in a saucepan.  Put on a lid.  Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until soft.  Remove the thyme and very roughly mash the pumpkin into the liquid with a potato masher.  You’re not after a smooth puree, more a rough mix.

2. Wash the rice twice to remove some of the starch, swishing it round a bowl and running cold water over it until the water is almost clear, and add it to the pumpkin mix in the saucepan.  You want the liquid to cover the rice by about 2 1/2cm (1in).  Add a little more water if necessary (or pour off some if there’s too much).  Add the butter and stir it in as it melts.  Put the lid back on the pan.  Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer immediately.

3.  Leave to simmer gently for around 20 mins.  Do not uncover the pan to take a peek as you want to keep in the heat.  The bottom of the rice will brown a little; this is how it is meant to be.  Just make sure it is on the lowest heat.  Turn off the heat and leave for a few more minutes, or until you’re ready to eat.  Add the remaining spring of thyme and, if you want to serve it with lots of style, pack into a lightly oiled dish and turn it out in a neat mound on to a serving plate.

The second recipe we use for the flesh is a lovely Pumpkin Soup from another favourite, The New Covent Garden Food Co Book of Soups. I’ve also adapted this recipe when I’ve been trying to follow the Weight Watchers Diet by leaving out the butter, and just throwing all the ingredients together in a pan, cooking until soft then blending.  Here’s the original version though:

Pumpkin Soup (serves 6)

25g (1oz) butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
200g (7oz) potatoes, peeled and chopped
900g (2lb) pumpkin, diced
250g (9oz) carrots, diced
1.2ltrs (2pints) vegetable stock
150ml (1/4pint) milk
demerara sugar to taste
finely grated nutmeg to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter and cook the onion gently for 5 minutes in a covered saucepan, without colouring.  Add the potato, 700g of the pumpkin, the carrots and the vegetable stock.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20 mins until the vegetables are tender.  Cool a little, then puree in a liquidiser.  Return to a clean saucepan and stir in the milk.

Meanwhile, add the remaining pumpkin to a saucepan of boiled salted water and cook for 2 minutes.  Drain and add to the pureed soup.  Add the sugar, nutmeg and seasoning to taste.  Reheat gently.

The most effective way to serve is in a hollowed-out pumpkin.  Take a pumpkin, slice off the top quarter, scoop out the seeds, place slices of toasted baguette in the base together with grated Gruyere cheese.  Fill with the soup, put on the lid and serve at the table.

Yum Yum. Enjoy!

This is part 1 of 3 blogs I’ll be writing on pumpkins this week, so keep an eye out for what’s coming next.

        Happy Halloween!