Love it or hate it: Jack-o’-lanterns

by Stephanie Gall

Love itI literally love jack-o’-lanterns as much as I love my morning coffee. Every fall, the weather turns crisp, sweaters come out of the closet and pumpkin spice is jammed down our throats. While I am not a fan of the pumpkin flavor craze, I childishly anticipate the arrival of “decorative gourd season” so I can plan what I am going to carve into the orange, bumpy canvas of the perfect pumpkin. It’s possibly the only fruit (yes, pumpkins are a fruit!) that we get to paint, carve and decorate for fun!

We can thank the Irish for creating the original jack-o’-lanterns (turnips, potatoes and rutabagas) then putting a light inside to ward off evil spirits. In America, the native pumpkins were larger and easier to carve, giving rise to the jack-o’-lantern as we know it.

With great fervor, I anticipate my yearly visit to an idyllic pumpkin patch where my old-timey feelings for farming are reawakened. It brings me great joy to choose the perfect pumpkin stump (twisty and unique) attached to the heaviest pumpkin, which correlates with the perfect guts-to-carving-surface ratio. I spend hours scooping out the nightmarish blend of snotty goo and seeds and cutting whimsical characters or design spooky images into these suckers. Their spooky glow gives me joy as I anxiously wait for Halloween to arrive.

And toasted pumpkin seeds … delicious, delightful, delectable pepitas! Millions of Americans join me on my yearly obsession with jack-o’-lantern season and nostalgia is kindled across the country!

— Stephanie GallHate itAt the risk of coming off like a holiday killjoy, I’ll be quite frank: The reason I hate jack-o’-lanterns is that I’m not good at them. While I always have high ambitions to carve one of those complex, elaborate, intricate artworks that look more like a sculpture commission, what I end up producing inevitably looks like the work of a butter-knife-toting first-grader forced into a hands-and-all dog costume. Designing in Photoshop with a mouse is my jam. Designing on a bulbous fruit using a likely-dull knife, not so much.

But beyond my lack of knife-wielding skills, using fertile ground and farming something perfectly edible – though there are tastier pumpkin varieties than the Howden pumpkin, the one most commonly used for carving – and then tossing it in the landfill to generate worrisome greenhouse gases seems needlessly wasteful. At least, there’s the possibility of composting.

Along these lines, I get caught up in the guilt: What to do with the guts? Soup? Bread? Trash? And the seeds, which seem compulsory to salvage, rinse and toast. And I don’t even like pumpkin seeds all that much. (What are you supposed to do? Eat the whole thing or somehow extract an even smaller seed, like with sunflower seeds?) What a pain. But have your pumpkin fun; I’ll just watch, thanks.

— David Holub


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