The 411 on the fall fruit
Pumpkin trivia: nutritional value, the history of jack o' lanterns and more.
Saturday, October 31, 2009 - 14:30
Q. Is there any nutritional value from eating pumpkin?
A. The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that it is loaded with an important antioxidant: beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Research has indicated that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and protects against heart disease as well as some degenerative aspects of aging. And, no, the pumpkin is not a vegetable; it's a fruit.
Q. Where does the practice of making Jack O' Lanterns come from?
A. This practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unpleasant figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the tricks Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into Hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O' Lantern."
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o' lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o' lanterns.
Q. How can I grow pumpkins that weigh more than 100 pounds?
A. One would have to use the jumbo variety pack of pumpkin seeds. Plant the seeds early in June and allow about 150 square feet per hill. Thin the harvest to the best one or two plants. High fertility, proper insect control and shallow cultivation are essential. Remove the first two or three female flowers after the plants start to bloom so that the plants grow larger with more leaf surface before setting fruit. Allow a single fruit to develop and pick off all other female flowers that develop after this point. Do not allow the vine to root down at the joints near this developing fruit because these varieties develop so quickly with mass that they may actually break from the vine as they expand on a vine anchored to the ground.
FYI: Pumpkins are monoecious, having both male and female flowers on the same plant. The female flower is distinguished by the small ovary at the base of the petals. These bright and colorful flowers have extremely short life spans and may only open for as short a time as one day.
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