The Power of the Pumpkin
Envision October and with it you will summon pictures of falling leaves, mugs of coffee and of course, orange pumpkins. A magical representative of this season, there is so much more to the humble pumpkin than just a carved face.
Perhaps it is October’s falling leaves and long nights that made our ancestors think of death, decay and darkness at this time of year, leading them to mark the beginning of their ancient winters with such a ghoulish celebration. Believed to predate the Romans, the origins of Halloween are thought to have derived from a Celtic festival named Samhain, which since evolved into what we now celebrate as Halloween. Also known as ‘All Hallows Eve’, the festival comes the day before ‘All Saints Day’, a day which honours all holy people and before ‘All Souls Day’ which falls the day after this, upon which we remember the souls of all those who have died.
While many of us believe that Halloween celebrations originated in the US, they are in fact wrong. English Heritage explains that pastimes such as trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving are actually ‘modern versions of old English and Irish traditions that go back hundreds of years’ and that travelled to the New World along with the original pilgrims and those that left Britain in the 1800s. “In many ways they’ve just been reintroduced to us,” says English Heritage. However, this is not to say that our transatlantic cousins and their early 1990’s blockbuster favourites such as Hocus Pocus and Beetlejuice, did not play their part. Gaining immense popularity over the last 30 years, Millennial Brits have happily re-adopted these Halloween hijinks so that we and our children can now partake in these ultimate spooky celebrations too.
Although the most supernatural time of the year, there is an earthy element of wholesomeness that comes with Halloween. A much-loved tradition that never seemed to leave our shores, that is of course, pumpkin carving. Again thought by some to be of American origin, the original Jack O’Lantern were actually carved out of turnips in the UK and Ireland. “Preparations for Halloween in the past involved carving ghastly faces into turnips, to make them resemble demons and devils,” explains English Heritage. “Burning candles were placed into the hollows and the glowing faces were not only reminders of death, but were also used to scare nasty neighbours! These shining turnips were called ‘punkies’ and ‘Jack O’Lanterns’ and were named after ghostly lights rumoured to be seen in marshes and bogs that were believed to be the spirits of the dead.”
However, one twist the USA did add to the tradition of the Jack O’Lantern was using pumpkins instead. Much softer, bigger and easier to carve than turnips, pumpkins also grow in abundance at this time of year in America. A member of the squash family and thought to have originated from Mexico, pumpkins are one of the oldest domesticated plants, having been used as early as 7,000 to 5,500 BC. It is no wonder they have lasted so long either, cooked up just right, they make a mighty pie, taste great roasted or stuffed, and turn into a fabulous soup, as seen at the end of this piece.
That’s right, the power of the pumpkin goes far beyond that of warding off evil spirits and nasty neighbours. When eaten, the health benefits of the pumpkin come in abundance, with just three heaped tablespoons of diced, cooked pumpkin acting as one of our five-a-day. Packed with skin friendly nutrients, including beta-carotene and vitamins E and C, pumpkins are thought to work wonders for our skin. Not naturally made by the body, vitamin C plays a part in the formation of collagen, which keeps our skin firm and plump, while also contributing to immune activity and increasing white blood cells. Whereas vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant that works alongside vitamin C to help protect against sun damage and dryness and beta-carotene is involved in skin protection from the sun’s UVB rays.
Beta-carotene, as well as vitamins C and E, also helps protect eyes and reduce the risk of age-related eye diseases. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of two carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin, levels of which have been linked to a reduced risk of cataracts. So it is not just carrots that will help us see in the dark! However, similarly to carrots, the bright orange colour of the pumpkin indicates high levels of vitamin A, which plays an important role in promoting our immune function. A 2015 study in Japan found that diets high in carotenoids (the pigments found in fruit and vegetables, such as the orange of a pumpkin) may help prevent the development of ‘metabolic syndrome’, a combination of conditions including diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure which lead to risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. As well as this, pumpkins are rich in antioxidants making it a superfood and therefore a great all-rounder to add to your diet at this time of year.
Where can you pick up a pumpkin in Kent?
Although likely to be sold in your local supermarket and greengrocers at this time of year, the frivolity of pumpkin picking is best enjoyed outdoors at one of Kent’s farms with fields dedicated to finding your perfect pumpkin. So pull on your wellies, grab a wheelbarrow and embrace the mud as you search out a pumpkin, squash or gourd best suited for your October needs!
Whether it’s a perfectly spherical giant orange one, a warped and twisted shape or one that’s a non-traditional greeny, blueish colour (apparently these are the tastiest!) you’re sure to find it right here in the Garden of England. Remember, if selecting a pumpkin to eat, choose one with a smooth, firm skin and keep in mind that smaller ones contain more flesh and are best for cooking.
Although you are sure to drive past many a pumpkin patch on your travels across the county and they are easy to find online, we have listed some of our favourite pumpkin patches here:
Pick Your Own Pumpkins – Cheesman’s Green Lane, Ashford, TN25 7HX
Pumpkin Moon – Sandling, Maidstone, ME14 3BE
Stanhill Farm – Birchwood Road, Dartford, Kent, DA2 7HD
Pick Your Own Pumpkins Canterbury – Hoath Fruit Farm, Bekesbourne Lane, CT3 4AB
Birchden Farm Pumpkins – Broadwater Forest Ln, Groombridge, Tunbridge Wells TN3 9NR
PYO Pumpkins – Beluncle Farm, Stoke Rd, Hoo, Rochester ME3 9LU
So whether you’re carving out a ghoulish face with the children or sipping on a pumpkin-spiced latte, remember the power of the pumpkin, just as rich in history as it is nutrients – a true autumnal treat and perfect for providing a happy Halloween!
insideKENT’s Pumpkin Soup
Although pumpkin flesh can sometimes be difficult to extract, this soup is well worth the work! Rich, creamy and full of unique flavour – you’ll be craving it all winter.
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
600g – 1kg of pumpkin flesh roughly chopped
700ml of vegetable or chicken stock
150 ml of double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Handful of packet pumpkin seeds to garnish and chopped herbs
Crusty bread and butter if preferred!
- Heat 2 tsp of oil or spray Fry Light in a large saucepan. Cook the two onions, garlic and celery for two to three minutes.
- Add all of your chopped pumpkin to the pan and carry on cooking for eight to 10 minutes, it will soften and turn golden.
- Add the stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil until the pumpkin is very soft.
- Pour all 150ml of double cream into the pan, bring back to the boil and pureé with a hand blender or liquidiser until smooth.
- Serve immediately, garnished with pumpkin seeds and chopped herbs.