As autumn descends and the nights grow longer, a special transformation is taking place in the heart of North Wales. At Rhug Estate, thousands of pumpkins are thriving, ready to be brought home and carved this Halloween season.
But pumpkins are not just a seasonal delight; they have a fascinating history dating back millennia. From their humble beginnings in Central America to their widespread cultivation and consumption across the globe, pumpkins hold a special place in British history.
Early Origins of Pumpkins
Pumpkin seeds can be traced back to Central America over 7,500 years ago. They were first cultivated in what is now known as Mexico and became an important food source for the indigenous people.
In the age of exploration, pumpkins made their way across the Atlantic to Europe, first introduced to Tudor England by the French in the 16th century. Pumpkins, or ‘pompions’ as they were known, quickly gained popularity as they were versatile and easy to grow and store. Tudor gardens soon started adopting these ‘New World’ crops, and recipes featuring pumpkins began to appear in cookbooks of the era. From soups and pies to preserves, pumpkins became a staple in English cuisine.
Not only were they a tasty addition to many dishes, but pumpkins were also widely used for medicinal purposes. Traditionally, every part of the pumpkin plant, from the fleshy shell, seeds, leaves, and even flowers, was believed to have healing properties. Pumpkins were a go-to remedy for many ailments, such as stomach issues, skin problems, and even as a diuretic.
Today, pumpkins continue to be used in a variety of ways. From pumpkin spice lattes to soup, this humble vegetable has become a staple in the autumnal diet.
Pumpkin Pie: A British Creation?
One of the earliest published recipes for an American-style pumpkin pie comes from Amelia Simmons’ 1796 cookbook “American Cookery“. But could it be that this classic American dessert has its roots in British cuisine?
Pumpkin pie recipes were found in English cookbooks dating back to the 17th century. The mention of a pie filled with alternating layers of pumpkin and apple, spiced with rosemary, sweet marjoram, and thyme, first appears in Hannah Woolley’s ‘The Gentlewoman’s Companion,’ published in 1670.
By the 18th century, the modern pumpkin pie had evolved and earned a place at the table during Thanksgiving celebrations across America.
A Symbol of Halloween
Historically, Britons used large turnips to carve lanterns during the Celtic holiday of Samhain. This tradition was based on an Irish myth about a man named “Stingy Jack”, who tricked the Devil and was made to roam the earth with nothing more than a turnip lantern. Irish immigrants brought this tale to America, where pumpkins, being more abundant and easier to carve than turnips, became the new canvas for these eerie Jack O Lanterns.
In modern times, pumpkins have become synonymous with Halloween, adorning doorsteps and windowsills across the UK. Pumpkin carving itself has become an art form, with competitions held every year to showcase the most creative Jack O Lantern designs.
Organic Pumpkins at Rhug Estate
This year, Rhug Estate is adding its own chapter to the pumpkin’s story. Thousands of pumpkins are being grown organically, without artificial pesticides, herbicides, or fertilisers. We are proud to grow organic produce and play a small part in preserving the history and tradition of this versatile vegetable.
For the first time, from October 21st to 31st, visitors will have the chance to pick their own organic pumpkin from our pumpkin patch. From carving lanterns for Halloween to creating delicious pumpkin dishes in the kitchen, our organic pumpkins are a true celebration of British farming and culinary heritage.
Lord Newborough is hopeful that the event will become an annual occurrence. He invites everyone to join in the scariest time of year at Rhug Estate, promising a Halloween experience that will appeal to both the local community and visitors from further afield.
Join us at Rhug Estate this Autumn, where the history of pumpkins comes alive in the most frightfully fun way!