Dear Aggie: Why are you carving pumpkins around Halloween?
Halloween, like most holidays, has a rich history filled with traditions that go back hundreds of years. There is none. However, pinpointing the exact origins of these traditions is nearly impossible due to widespread folklore, cultural differences and, of course, the lack of written documentation.
One of the reasons for carving pumpkins can be traced back to a character in Celtic folklore named “Jack Messy.” As the story goes, Jack is a cunning man who runs into a demon at a local bar and decides to share a drink with him. Jack, known as Cheapskate, refused to pay for the drink and instead persuaded the devil to transform into coins so he could pay for it. Agreed. However, Jack soon received a demon disguised as a coin and slipped it into a pocket next to Silver Cloth, making it impossible for the demon to transform back to its original form. When Jack died, God refused to let him into Heaven, and by their agreement, the Devil did not take his soul. In 1945, he was sent to wander the night with nothing but coals to light his way. The townspeople began calling him “Jack the Lantern”, eventually becoming “Jack O’ Lantern”. They began making their own lanterns out of potatoes, beets, and pumpkins to ward off evil spirits.
There are several other theories as to why this tradition began, but that is the one story that is widely accepted as the beginning. That may not be its true origin, but it sets the perfect spooky mood for Halloween. There are plenty of things to help set the mood, including lots of pumpkin patches to make jack-o-lanterns. If you plan to tell the story of Stingy Jack and make time to spend with friends and family this year, you’ll want to buy your pumpkins locally.Jefferson County has Elmer Creek Farm and Old MacDonald Farm. Here are his two hand-picked pumpkin patches. There are many other places to get local pumpkins, so keep an eye out for roadside stalls and nurseries such as Windy Acres Nursery and Martins Greenhouse. The Watertown Saturday Farmers Market is just one more day away (October 29), and you can also check out your local grocery store.
As you’re looking for the perfect pumpkin to carve up and scare off stingy Jack, keep these things in mind: Choose a design before choosing a pumpkin. That way you know the size and shape you need. When the outside of the pumpkin is tapped, it makes a hollow sound, signaling that it is ripe and ready to be chopped. You should also avoid soft spots as they mean they are beginning to rot. Finally, have fun, enjoy your time with your loved ones and watch out for Stingy Jack!
Written by Amanda Bickford, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Local Food and Marketing Expert.