Pumpkin Week with Food Glorious Food and the National Trust

October 19, 2009toOctober 23, 2009

Picture 028A million home-grown gargoyles, gremlins and ghosts will light up windowsills this month as thousands of families carve out jack-o-lanterns after being inspired to grow their own pumpkins.

The National Trust’s Food Glorious Food campaign’s huge seed giveaway, along with a warm, wet summer which provided perfect growing conditions, means that there will be enough extra pumpkins this year for 1 million jack-o-lanterns, 10 million bowls of pumpkin soup, and 600 million toasted pumpkin seeds.

The National Trust is marking the start of the winter growing season with a special series of events to celebrate the success of a new generation of home-grown vegetable gardeners. Pumpkin carving classes and spooky trails will celebrate Halloween, whilst winter vegetable growing workshops and cookery demonstrations will inspire people to continue growing their own during the colder months.

History of Halloween pumpkins

  • Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C.
  • References to pumpkins date back many centuries. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for “large melon” which is “pepon.” “Pepon” was changed by the French into “pompon.” The English changed “pompon” to “Pumpion.” American colonists changed “pumpion” into “pumpkin.”
  • Native American Indians used pumpkin as a staple in their diets centuries before the pilgrims landed. They also dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. Indians would also roast long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and eat them. When white settlers arrived, they saw the pumpkins grown by the Indians and pumpkin soon became a staple in their diets. As today, early settlers used them in a wide variety of recipes from desserts to stews and soups. The origin of pumpkin pie is thought to have occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and then filled it with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in the hot ashes of a dying fire.
  • The origin of Halloween dates back at least 3,000 years to the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced “sow-ain”). The festival was held starting at sundown on October 31st and lasted until sundown on November 1st. It was similar to the modern practice of the New Years celebration.
  • On this magical night, glowing jack-o-lanterns, carved from turnips or gourds, were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones, but also to act as protection against malevolent spirits. Burning lumps of coal were used inside as a source of light, later to be replaced by candles.
  • Samhain was not the name of a “Lord of the Dead”, no historical evidence has ever been found to back this up, it was simply the name of the festival and meant “Summer’s End”. It was believed that the souls of the dead were closest to this world and was the best time to contact them to say good bye or ask for assistance. It was also a celebration of the harvest. It is still treated as such today by those who practice Wicca or other nature based religions. It has absolutely nothing to do with satan, who was a creation of the Christian church.
  • When European settlers, particularly the Irish, arrived in America they found the native pumpkin to be larger, easier to carve and seemed the perfect choice for jack-o-lanterns. Halloween didn’t really catch on big in this country until the late 1800’s and has been celebrated in many ways ever since!

Pumpkin facts

  • A pumpkin is really a squash.  It’s  a member of the Cucurbita family which includes squash and cucumbers.
  • Six of the seven continents can grow pumpkins including Alaska!  Antarctica is the only continent that they won’t grow in.
  • The the “pumpkin capital” of the world is Morton, Illinois
  • The the  Irish brought this tradition of pumpkin carving to America.  The tradition originally started with the carving of turnips. When the Irish immigrated to the U.S., they found pumpkins a plenty and they were much easier to carve for their ancient holiday.
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake
  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.
  • The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.
  • Pumpkins are 90 percent water.

Pumpkin carving

Selecting the pumpkins you’ll carve for your Halloween Jack-O’-Lanterns is very important. You’ll need to pick pumpkins according to what you want to carve on them.
Whether it’s simply carving a pumpkin to sit on the door step or holding pumpkin carving parties and contests, this age old tradition is a main event for young and old alike.
Depending on the variety, pumpkins can range in size anywhere from tiny to humongous. Medium sized ones work best for most stencils that you’ll make or buy. Very large pumpkins can be carved with elaborate designs and used as “center pieces” on your porch or tables. Small pumpkins work fine for carving traditional faces, they can be done fast and you can have many of them scattered about for parties, haunts or up your sidewalk  as a lighted pathway.

What you need:

  • a pumpkin
  • lots of newspaper
  • large and small sharp knives
  • strong spoons for scraping
  • felt-tipped pen
  • plate or glass or metal ashtray
  • candle


  1. Have fun practising scary faces first on paper; remember to space out the eyes, mouth and nose and start off simply if you’re a beginner. Or for a pretty, grown-up pumpkin, draw stars and crescent moons. When you’re happy with your design, tape it to the pumpkin
  2. Put several layers of newspaper on the floor (or your working space) and place your pumpkin on it.
  3. With your pen, draw a circle big enough for you to put your hand in around the stem of the pumpkin.
  4. Cut along the circle and take the stem piece out. Caution: Younger children, ask a grown-up to do this for you.
  5. Pull out as much of the stringy pulp and seeds as you can. Using a strong spoon, scrape the inside of the pumpkin until it is completely smooth and clean. The ideal thickness of the pumpkin is 1 inch for a nice big space that will reflect light and make it look extra spooky.
  6. Now the fun part. Whilst holding the pumpkin firmly in your lap face-up, use your knives to cut out the shapes you have drawn on the paper. Then take the paper off and admire your work!
  7. Keep your pumpkin fresh by spreading petroleum jelly on the cut edges to seal in moisture. If your pumpkin still shrivels a few days later, revive it with a facedown soak in cold water for up to eight hours.
  8. If you sprinkle a little cinnamon inside the lid, when you light the candle, your jack-o’- lantern will smell like a pumpkin pie.
  9. Finally, you need to light up your lantern. Choose a short candle (so the flame does not burn the top of your pumpkin). Now melt the bottom of the candle and fix it onto a plate, glass or metal ashtray. Put the plate with the candle into the jack-o’-lantern.
  10. Place the jack-o’-lantern wherever you want to display it and light the candle. Your Jack-o’-Lantern is ready!

Pumpkin Recipes

Toast the seeds – use different combinations of seasoning and serve in pretty dishes for dinner party nibbles. Try salt and chilli for a simple, peppy flavour, or sweeten things up and make candied pumpkin seeds with brown and white sugar and orange juice, cooked in the oven

Check out the National Trust website for more wonderful pumpkin recipes
Just type ‘pumpkin recipe’ in the search box and find pumpkin and banana bread, pumpkin and tomato soup and historical treats like 18th Century pumpkin, leek and cheese tart

Winter vegetables

Up until the end of October there is a good range of vegetables that can be sown. Slugs and snails are less of a threat than in the summer as they begin to hibernate, making it easier for children to grow a successful crop. The National Trust has come up with the top three winter vegetables to encourage children to grow.

Broad beans
These can be picked as they grow and the smaller the sweeter. Sowing at this time of the year means that they won’t be attacked at by pests, and children love picking them and eating them straight from the pod – a great way to get them eating vegetables.

Onions, spring onions and shallots
Another one that is easy and simple.  These take a while to come up but are infinitely useful in the kitchen and in the meantime, produce pretty flowers.

Winter lettuce
You can grow really hardy varieties such as Winter Gem and pick throughout the year as long as it doesn’t get too cold. They are a great way of getting some fresh vegetables into the warming but often stodgy meals we often tend to eat in the winter.

Get creative with weird and wonderful containers

Growing vegetables is really useful for teaching young people where food comes from and a wonderful way to get them thinking creatively about how to use space. You don’t need a garden – children can have fun finding things lying around the home to use. Here are a few unusual fruit and veg containers to inspire you:

  • From colourful clogs to an old leather boot, punch holes in old shoe soles for funky, creative plant containers. Wellington boots are great for spring onions!
  • Fill toilet roll tubes with compost and seeds and you can start off many kinds of vegetables – including beans, carrots and parsnips – inside. Transplant them into the soil after a few weeks without disturbing the roots, where the biodegradable cardboard will just rot away
  • Buckets are ideal for all kinds of root vegetables – they are just the right depth and ensure your lovely parsnips won’t take over the whole garden
  • Goldfish bowls and tanks look wonderful planted with herbs and make fantastic wormeries for children
  • If a child grows out of their lunchbox, they don’t have to throw it away. Help them plant some herbs in it for an eccentric addition to the class room window sill or garden

Find out more

If you want tips on how to grow your pumpkin for next year, and other vegetables, see the Food Glorious Food website on www.foodgloriousfood.org.uk