It’s autumn! This time of year excites me just as much as spring with the beautiful colours, crisp mornings and cosy evenings in.
One of my favourite childhood memories is of walking through the woodland, crunching through the leaves, looking for chestnuts and mushrooms. Autumn also means Hallowe’en – my favourite festival. My daughter asks me every day if it’s Hallowe’en yet and we’re counting down the days on the calendar.
Hallowe’en, of course, means pumpkins. It is thought that pumpkins originally came from Mexico and were an essential crop due to their hard skins which meant they were easily stored throughout the winter. They didn’t look like the ones we see today, they were smaller with a longer neck and had a bitter taste.
Our large orange pumpkins were cultivated by the Native Americans and nowadays it is pointless to try and create any tasty dish from the flesh you remove ready for carving – these have been grown specifically for the market of carving ‘Jack ‘o Lanterns’ and the flesh is tasteless.
The first mention of pumpkin lanterns being linked with Hallowe’en in America dates from 1866 but here in the UK we have our own story. Stingy Jack was a mean drunken Irishman who drew the attention of Satan with his evil lifestyle. Satan tried to take Jack back to Hell but Jack was clever and tricked Satan into giving him another 10 years of life. After that time, Satan returned and was again tricked into promising never to steal Jack’s soul.
When Jack eventually died, he was denied entry into Heaven due to his nefarious life. He was sent to Hell, where Satan duly upheld his promise to never take Jack’s soul so Jack was left to wander the netherworld with a glowing ember inside a hollowed turnip to light his way.
As always, I would urge you to support your local farmers and buy your pumpkins locally – these ones will probably still have flavour in their flesh too! There are many different patterned squashes that make great table decorations and can be eaten afterwards since they keep so well. There are also some great events going on in the next couple of weeks.
The Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey is hosting two free drop-in craft days on 25th and 26th October where you can go and learn about the traditions surrounding The Day of the Dead and create a traditional decoration to take home.
Most of the National Trust properties, including Castle Drogo in Drewsteignton, are holding spooky craft days and monster trail activities and if you fancied a trip to the coast, Cockington Court in Torquay has their Hallowe’en Night on Saturday 28th with terrifying tasty treats, spooky activities and fire juggling.