Potty Gardening Club: Pumpkins and Halloween
Pumpkins are members of the Melon Family, along with melons, water melons, gourds, cucumbers, squashes and luffas. There are about 142 types of pumpkin worldwide, probably originating in Central America about 7,500 years ago with seeds being found in ancient ruins in Mexico.
Although you may think of a pumpkin as a vegetable, it is actually considered to be a fruit because it develops from a flower and contains seeds. Stems, roots, leaves and flower buds are considered to be vegetables.
Although Pumpkins are excellent for eating, they are best known for being carved into ghoulish faces at Halloween. Did you know that long before the pumpkin became a Halloween decoration, people used to carve scary faces into turnips and place them in the doorway to frighten away evils spirits? It all began with a man named Jack who, after trying to trick the Devil, was cursed to roam the Earth with only a burning coal held inside a hollowed-out turnip.
The story tells of Stingy Jack who wasn’t a very nice man being chased by some villagers he had stolen from. While running away he bumped into the Devil who told him it was time for him to die. Jack tricked the Devil by offering the church-going villagers chasing him instead. He told the Devil (who could change into anything he wanted) to turn into a coin so he could pay for the stolen goods, but later the coin could disappear and the villagers would fight over who had stolen it and the Devil could take them. The Devil turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack’s purse where jack had put a small silver cross he had pinched in the village. The cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped. After promising never to take his soul, Jack releases the Devil. Many years later when Jack died, he couldn’t go to heaven because he had been so bad and the Devil had promised never to take his soul, and so Jack had nowhere to go except the darkness. The Devil gave Jack a burning coal for light if he could carry it, But of course it burned Jacks hands. So Jack carved out a turnip and put the coal inside it to light his way as he endlessly wandered the Earth looking for a resting place. He became known as “Jack of the Lantern”, or Jack o’lantern.
Last year Potty Gardeners attending the museum club took part in a pumpkin carving competition. The results were brilliant, with some really scary pumpkin heads being produced. This year things have to be a little different but we can still have a competition just for fun. You can carve your Pumpkin heads at home, or if you can’t do this you can draw your design on the pumpkin drawing sheet provided. You can also make it into a mask by adding ties and wearing it on Halloween night. You can send us photographs of your creations so we can post them here – Email us at [email protected] or tag us @potteriesmuseum (Twitter) or @thepotteriesmuseum (Facebook).
Have a Happy and scary Halloween.
Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer