Connecticut Garden Journal: Meet Halloween's Jack of All Lanterns | Connecticut Public Radio
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Connecticut Garden Journal: Meet Halloween's Jack of All Lanterns

Oct 8, 2015

A traditional Irish Halloween turnip lantern on display at the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life.
Credit Wikipedia / Creative Commons
People in Scotland and Ireland carved scary faces in turnips, beets, and potatoes.

Pumpkins line farm stands and garden centers along with mums and corn stalks this time of year. Soon, that age-old tradition of pumpkin carving will happen, but did you know the first Jack-o’-Lantern was actually a turnip?

The Irish story goes that there was an unsavory character named Stingy Jack who tricked the devil into not claiming his soul. When Jack died, the devil couldn’t take him, so he sent him off into the dark night to wander endlessly, with only a piece of coal burning in a hollowed-out turnip to light his way. He was referred to as "Jack of the lantern."

People in Scotland and Ireland carved scary faces in turnips, beets, and potatoes, and placed them in their windows on All Hallow’s Eve to scare off old Jack when he passed their house. When these immigrants arrived in America, they used the pumpkin to honor the same tradition.

While we may not have to worry about Jack, decorating and carving pumpkins is a fun activity to do with kids and grandkids.

When carving pumpkins, kids often get disappointed when the pumpkin is too hard to cut, or it simply rots quickly after carving. To make carving easier, soak your pumpkin in cold water overnight. It will absorb the moisture and firm up the flesh. To help the masterpiece last longer, wash it with a bleach solution to kill any fungal spores, and apply petroleum jelly to the cut surfaces to prevent it from drying out. 

Credit starsandspirals flickr.com/photos/becca02/10561582034 / Creative Commons

Consider getting a little crazy with lighting, using blinking bulbs, or a strobe light to create the scariest pumpkin possible.