Saturday, October 8, 2011

Jack Of The Lantern...

(Photo:  Dan Haskell)
May Jack-O'-Lanterns burning bright
Of soft and golden hue
Pierce through the future's veil and show
What fate now holds for you.

~ Author Unknown

One of my favorite things about Halloween is the carving of the pumpkins.  I would say it has to be the main symbol for the holiday.  Jack O'Lanterns with candles burning brightly inside, mischievous and sinister smiles on their faces. Pumpkin carving has become something of an art, but I am rather "old school" when it comes to the ones I carve.  I stick to variations of the classic Jack O'Lantern face.  Below are pictures of my pumpkins from the last couple of years.  This year I plan to try something a bit different.

The carving of 'Lanterns' started many moons ago in Ireland.  The difference between the lanterns then and the ones we carve today, is that the Irish carved faces in turnips, beets, and potatoes.  The Irish and Scots both had their own versions of carved lanterns, and the English carved beets.  The carved vegetable lanterns would be placed in windows, or near doors.  They were believed to frighten away wandering evil spirits, and are the subject of an old myth...'Stingy Jack'.

(An early 20th century turnip lantern ~ Museum of Country Life, Ireland)
There are different subtle variations of this myth, but what follows covers the basics:

The Legend of Stingy Jack

There once was a man named Stingy Jack. Everyone for miles around knew him.  They knew him as a con artist, thief, and a drunkard.  Jack was so infamous that the Devil heard about him, and decided to pay Jack a call. Heavily in his cups (drunk), Jack was stumbling down the road on his way home one night.  It was then that he happened upon the Devil's evil countenance.  The Devil was grinning broadly.  It took a moment, for Jack to realize that the silent stranger was the Devil.  Jack knew that the Devil wanted to claim his soul.  Thinking quickly (something he was quite good at) Jack said he would go willingly, if the Devil would allow him one final request.  He asked the Devil to join him for a final drink.

The Devil thought about it for a moment, and seeing no harm in granting Jack's request, the Devil accompanied Jack to a nearby tavern where they drank until morning.  When the time came for them to settle their bill, Jack made another request.  He slyly asked the Devil to turn into a coin to pay the bill.  Once the barman took the coin, it would disappear as the Devil would switch back to his true form, and Jack would be allowed to experience one last trick.  Always one to enjoy a bit of trickery here and there, the Devil agreed.  Once the Devil changed, Jack grabbed the coin, deciding that he would keep it.  Plunging it into his pocket, the Devil found himself in a tough spot.  Jack had a silver cross in his pocket, as well.  The cross prevented the Devil from changing back into his true form.  Jack said that he would free the Devil under one condition. Jack's demand was that once freed, the Devil couldn't bother Jack for ten years. Even if Jack died during that time, the Devil couldn't claim Jack's soul. With no means of escape, the Devil had no choice.  He made the deal.  He wouldn't call on Jack for ten years.  

(Various types of gourds ~ pumpkins are in the gourd family)

The years passed quickly, and before he knew it the ten years had come and gone.  True to his word, on the exact anniversary of Jack's deal, he found himself looking at the evil countenance of the Devil once again.  Thinking quickly, Jack told the Devil that he would go with him willingly if he would just climb a nearby tree to get Jack an apple.  Jack feebly told him that he was to old and frail now, and couldn't do it himself.  After the Devil jumped up and climbed into the tree, Jack quickly scratched some crosses into the tree's bark, trapping the Devil once again.  In a last ditch effort to save himself, Jack made the Devil promise to never take his soul when he died to ensure his entrance into heaven.  Faced with no choices once again, the Devil agreed.

A few years later, Jack died.  When he reached the pearly gates, God stopped him.  God refused to let such a man with sinful ways and an unsavory past into heaven, and sent Jack to hell.  After being refused admission into heaven, Jack went down to the gates of hell where he approached the Devil to let him in. But the Devil stayed true to his word.  The Devil refused Jack's admission, and turned him away.  Faced with a future of being damned to wander the Earth in darkness forever, Jack fell to his knees pleading with the Devil to let him in.  Full of malice, the grinning Devil tossed Jack a burning ember from the depths of hell, and told him to go.  Jack would not be admitted into hell, either. Jack took the ember filled with the heat of hellfire, and left.  Finding a turnip along a path, Jack hollowed it out and dropped the ember inside creating a lantern.

After his death, Villagers began seeing the eerie flame of Jack O' the Lantern wandering in the darkness.  If someone was unfortunate enough to happen upon the ghost, they would be tricked out of their lives and at times even their souls would be taken.  The legend says that every year on Halloween night, Jack wanders the night disguised as an old man, a mangy dog, or even as a silver coin dropped onto someones doorstep.

To protect themselves and ward off Jack the malevolent spirit, people carve faces into turnips and pumpkins, place a flaming candle inside, and place the carved lantern on their front porches.  Some say that these carved lanterns are to remind Jack of his penance.  Others say that the glowing grins are to remind Jack of the Devil's evil visage and send him fleeing with terror into the night.

The End

When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam,
May luck be yours on Halloween.

~ Author Unknown

The four pumpkins above and below are designs created by a carving method I haven't tried as of yet.  Leaving the pumpkin flesh intact, and shaving off outer layers to make the design...sounds rather tedious.  I have a few friends who use this method on their pumpkins, and they are quite good at it.  They have all said that a key requirement is to have patience.

I especially like the 'Wizard of Oz' one below, and the one above that has the 'Greenman' on it.  Very impressive.

As with a lot of creative projects, sometimes simplicity can have big impact.  I really like the twig design on the white pumpkin.  I wish they also had a shot of it in the dark with a candle in it.  By the design, it looks as though it could resemble lightning.  Very cool.

I first saw the carriage design above during Halloween of last year.  I think it's really adorable, and a great idea.  Seeing designs like that can really get your own creative juices flowing.  In the month of October, there are pumpkins of varying size from tiny to huge, and there is a variety of gourds available.  The produce stand near my home has all kinds of interesting and peculiar gourds and squashes that one could get really creative with.

There are all kinds of fake pumpkins on the market (Michaels carries several), and many of them are carvable.  I personally have never worked with a fake pumpkin, so I don't know how realistic they look when you cut into them.  I don't know what the cut edges look like.  I included the craft project above as I think it's another great idea.  Actually this Halloween diorama reminds me of the egg dioramas you can find at Easter.  Looking at this picture is making me think of ideas as I type this...moving right along...

This mega-pumpkin was grown in Minnesota, by Mr. Chris Stevens, and last year (2010) it was named the Guinness Book's heaviest pumpkin at 1,810 lbs. 8 oz.  That's a whole lotta pumpkin!

For the past few years, I have caught bits and pieces of the "Punkin Chunkin" competition when it has aired on the Discovery Channel.  Hosted by the guys from "MythBusters", the goal of the competition is to 'sling', 'fling', or 'shoot' a pumpkin the farthest distance.  Some of the 'chunkers' the competitors make cost well into the thousands of dollars.  I find it kind of a pointless activity to hurl pumpkins through the air.  I think the interest lies in the characters who compete, and their huge contraptions.  I think that's where the spectator draw is.  When I watched it last year with my boyfriend, it was a good thing that the 'MythBusters' were hosting because they made things a bit more entertaining because they found it entertaining.  I am not sure when this year's "Punkin Chunkin" will air, but since it's 'punkin' season, I would assume it to be soon.  If you want to learn more about "Punkin Chunkin", here's the link.

As my last addition to this pumpkin themed post, I am going to share a recipe I make every year around this time.  "Pumpkin Bread".  All recipes are similar, but this one has served me's really good!

Pumpkin Bread
  • 2/3 Cup Shortening
  • 2+2/3 Cups Sugar
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 Can (16 oz.) Pumpkin
  • 2/3 Cup Water
  • 3+1/3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 1+1/2 Teaspoons Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • Nuts &/or Raisins

Heat oven to 350.  Grease bottoms of 2 loaf pans.  Mix shortening and sugar thoroughly, until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, pumpkin, and water.  Sift dry ingredients together, and blend into wet mixture gradually.  Add nuts and/or raisins.  Bake about an hour and ten minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool slightly, loosen sides, and remove from pans.  Cool completely before slicing.

Just a note...I usually leave out the nuts, and just add raisins.  A number of people have nut allergies these days.  Also, I prefer it without nuts.  *grin*

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