Extension Connection

Extension Connection

Accent photo

Halloween Horticulture

Photo of Julia Pryor

Julia Pryor
Program Coordinator, Master Gardeners

What would Halloween be without pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns and decorations? You can do the traditional carving or be inspired by today's images to try your hand at something new using one of the many varieties of pumpkins available today.

While the pumpkin is most often associated with Halloween, it may surprise you to know that other fruits and vegetables had strong connections to this holiday.

In England and Ireland, Halloween lanterns were originally carved out of turnips and large beets. Faces of demons were cut into vegetables, reports Lelia Scott Kelly from Mississippi State University Extension. A glowing coal was placed inside and people carried these lanterns and placed them by their doorsteps to frighten away evil spirits.

When Irish immigrants arrived in America, they found pumpkins abundant and much easier to carve than turnips so the tradition of turning pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns began.

The custom of decorating with apples, pumpkins, cornstalks, and autumn leaves has its origin in an ancient Druid autumn festival called Samhain (pronounced SAH-win). The festival celebrated the end of summer and a successful harvest.

Apples have an affiliation with Halloween. Some give apples to trick-or-treaters instead of candy. Bobbing for apples is a fun activity for Halloween celebrations. In the Victorian era the apple played a significant role in determining a young girl's future: she slipped an apple under her pillow on Halloween eve so she was sure to dream of her sweetheart.

Apples were also used to foretell the identity of the man she was to marry. At midnight on Halloween a girl would stand in front of a mirror and brush her hair three times while eating an apple. It is said the image of her future husband would appear in the mirror over her shoulder.

Legend has it that visiting the cabbage patch on Halloween provided another way to learn about one's future spouse, and this was followed by both young men and women who rushed into the garden to pick the first cabbage they saw. If the cabbage had a short stalk the spouse would be short. A long stalk meant the spouse would be tall. Dirt on the leaves meant the one who picked the plant would marry rich, says Kelly.

If a young maiden could not choose between two suitors she took a pair of hazelnuts, one for each beau, and tossed them into the fire on Halloween night. The nut that burned the brightest or potted the loudest indicated which man was to be hers. In England this became known as Nutcrack Night.

The battle of good vs. evil or light vs. darkness is woven throughout time. Historically, many plants and their aromas have a protective affiliation.

In Mediterranean countries rosemary was placed over the cradle of babies to protect them. It was often burned with juniper and thyme as a means of cleansing the room of bad spirits and witches. Rue was hung from doorways and windows to ward off evil spirits to prevent them from entering the house.

Salvia, also known as meadow sage, was considered a symbol of immortality. Salvia was planted on graves in cemeteries to symbolize eternal life.

While we don't all make trips to cabbage patches or sleep with apples under our pillows, I hope your next trip down the produce aisle has you thinking about this article. In today's world we are fortunate to have quality research based information readily available, and a great source is University of Illinois Extension.

Pour yourself another cup of coffee and consider the following straight off the pumpkin press from U of I Extension's "Pumpkins and More" website:

  • Around 90 to 95% of the processed pumpkins in the United States are grown in Illinois.
  • 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.
  • In colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for pie crust, not the filling.
  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.
  • Pumpkins range in size from less than a pound to over 1,000 pounds, and the largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.
  • Pumpkins are a fruit and are 90 percent water.
  • Colonists sliced off pumpkin tops; removed seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin of pumpkin pie.
  • Native Americans flattened strips of pumpkins, dried them and made mats and used their seeds for food and medicine.

There is still time to apply to be part of the 2011 Master Gardener training class. Give me a call at 309-547-3711 or email me at jpryor@illinois.edu for an application. I welcome the opportunity to speak with you about this outstanding program.

At University of Illinois Extension—Fulton County, we are committed to helping the people of Illinois put knowledge to work. For a complete list of activities and links to a variety of helpful resources, check us out on the web at fulton.extension.uiuc.edu. It is my privilege to share information with you in this column, and I look forward to our 'Extension Connection'. Have a safe and happy Halloween and a great week!

View Article Archive >>