Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Jack O'Lanterns and Will O’ the Whisp
Irish folklore explains this scary experience with a tale about a man called Stingy Jack. Jack asked the Devil to share a drink with him, but not wanting to pay for the drinks, he asked the Devil to change into a silver coin for payment since the Devil could easily change back afterwards. The Devil agreed with Jacks reasoning and changed himself into a coin. Jack then placed the coin into his pocket where a crucifix prevented the Devil from reclaiming his shape.
In return for his release the Devil promised Jack not to claim his soul. When Jack died, he found his shenanigans prevented him from getting into heaven. The Devil also refused him but gave him a coal to start his own hell. Jack put the coal into a hollowed-out turnip and left on an eternal search for the right place with his turnip lantern lighting the way. (The tale is all over the net right now, I found my version years ago, but the wording here is the similar to that found on the History Channel’s version.)
The Irish believed the ghost lights they saw in the forest were a reflection of Jack’s turnip lantern as his lost soul roamed the earth. The lights also became known as Jack O’ the Lantern. Ghostly lights, Jack O’Lanterns, and lost souls are inescapably tied to Halloween.
Europeans for centuries had carved Jack O’Lanterns out of turnips. After the discovery of the Western Hemisphere, they switched to our native pumpkins. In this country, Jack O’Lanterns are synonymous with this huge orange-colored fruit.
Native Americans have grown pumpkins for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until 1584 that French explorer Jacques Cartier reported finding the fruit in the St. Lawrence region. The importation of pumpkins into Europe effected literature with pumpkins appearing in folktales like Cinderella, Mother Goose’s Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, and followed emigrants to America, as in our famous contribution, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Pumpkins are easy to grow, and both children and adults enjoy watching this fruit’s amazing growth as they change size almost daily. Within the last few decades growing and carving pumpkins have become an art, with contests for largest pumpkin grown and best carved pumpkin.
Cooking with pumpkin is another art. Pumpkin bread, cookies, soup, and pumpkin pie are all enjoyed during the autumn season. Varieties have been developed especially for cooking. Pie pumpkins usually grow smaller with more sugar content in the fruit, yet any pumpkin’s fruit can be used in baking and cooking.
To grow: These plants are heavy feeders needing a rich soil with plenty of soil nutrients and fertilizing during the growing season. Pumpkin seeds should be planted in a mound enriched with compost or well-rotted manure after each region's last frost date. Six to eight seeds are planted in each mound. Once sprouted, the best two seedlings are selected and the others pulled out. If too many plants grow too close together, they will produce fine foliage but few pumpkins. The vines consume large areas of garden space, so their growing site should be carefully selected. The seed packet gives the approximate maturation time, which can range from ninety to a hundred and twenty days. Pumpkins need plenty of water once they set fruit, and are ripe when they turn completely orange.