Every October, carved pumpkins peer out from porches and doorsteps, primarily in regions of the western world, and especially so in North America and Canada. Gourd-like orange fruits inscribed with ghoulish faces and illuminated by candles are a sure sign of the Halloween season. Contrary to popular belief, Halloween wasn’t invented by the Americans. Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is said to have its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture.
The tradition of trick-or-treating is an adaptation of the medieval practice of souling, where people would offer to sing and say prayers for the dead in return for food. I remember going trick-or-treating in the UK, as a young girl, but it wasn’t nearly as popular an activity then as it is today. Halloween is now a multi-million pound industry in the UK, and I’m guessing in many other country’s too. Fancy dress costumes, home decorations, and all that candy, it’s worth a lot of money to a lot of businesses.
Halloween is more than just scary masks and sugar overloads. One of the highlights for us as a family is carving out a pumpkin or two. People have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish folktale about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack” who liked to play tricks on the Devil. After Jack died, as the legend goes, God would not allow this rather unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the tricks Jack had played on him, would not allow Jack into hell. Instead, he sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since. The Irish referred to this ghostly figure as “Jack O’Lantern.”
People began to make their own versions of Jack’s lantern, by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes, and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away evil spirits. Irish immigrants brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns. Thankfully there are an abundance of pumpkins in Beijing too.
My son loves the whole carving event. Last year, and the year before that, he grinned from ear to ear, as we carved those big orange fruits, one with a smiley face, the other a spooky one. Because, if I’m honest, that’s as far as our pumpkin carving skills go. So when he came home from school today and declared that this year’s pumpkins will feature a haunted house and a scary bat, we were the ones looking terrified. So I turned to the internet for some tips and ideas. With a bit of creativity, it seems you can come up with a masterpiece.
So we have set ourselves the challenge of carving something a bit more exciting this year, but I can’t promise any haunted houses. One idea I might embrace is lighting the pumpkin with glow sticks, perhaps the colors will detract from the lack of impressive carving skills. No doubt there will be several attempts at producing something that my son will think is cool enough. So we’ll have plenty of wonderful pumpkin flesh, for turning into soup or my other favorite pumpkin recipe a risotto. This recipe is very simple, and if you prefer, you can replace the pumpkin with squash.
1 small pumpkin – after peeling and scraping out the seeds, you need about 400g/14oz
1 tbsp. olive oil, plus a drizzle for the pumpkin
2 garlic cloves
8 spring onions (scallions)
200g risotto rice
2 tsp ground cumin
1 liter hot vegetable stock
50g grated parmesan (or vegetarian alternative)
Small handful coriander (cilantro) or sage, roughly chopped
Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 4.
Chop up the pumpkin into 1.5cm cubes. Put pumpkin on a baking tray, drizzle over some oil, then roast for 30 minutes.
While the pumpkin is roasting, you can make the risotto. Put the garlic in a sandwich bag, then bash lightly with a rolling pin until it’s crushed.
Cut up the spring onions (scallions) with scissors.
Heat 1 tbsp. of oil along with the butter, in a pan over a medium heat. Add the spring onions and garlic. Once the onions are soft but not getting brown, add the rice and cumin. Stir well to coat in the buttery mix for about 1 min.
Now add half a cup of the stock, and stir every now and then until it has all disappeared into the rice. Carry on adding and stirring in a large splash of stock at a time, until you have used up all the stock – this will take about 20 minutes.
Check the rice is cooked. If it isn’t, add a splash more stock, and carry on cooking for a bit.
Once the rice done, gently stir in the grated cheese, chopped coriander (cilantro) or sage, and roasted pumpkin.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.