The jack-o-lantern originated in Ireland and Scotland. In honor of the Celtic tradition All Hallow’s Eve, people carved scary faces into turnips and potatoes, placing them in windows or on door stoops to frighten away evil spirits.
It wasn’t until they immigrated to North America that settlers discovered the pumpkin, which soon became the popular gourd for jack-o-lanterns.
American Indians first introduced pumpkin as a food to immigrants when they encountered the Spanish at the Rio Grande River in the late 1500s, offering the Spaniards pumpkin seeds as part of a peace offering, according to LocalHarvest.org.
American Indians roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried the flesh in numerous ways. Each tribe developed its own ways to prepare and enjoy the pumpkin. Diné cooks fry it with mutton, while Taos Pueblo cooks make a succotash by cooking unripe pumpkin with corn kernels and onion. In Woodland areas, pumpkin is eaten similarly to winter squash, occasionally cut into rings to dry and be reconstituted when needed. Read Indian Country Today Media Network’s food writer Dale Carson’s article about how Indigenous peoples have enjoyed the sunset-colored gourd for centuries.
As a medicine, American Indians used pumpkins as a remedy for snake bites. Pumpkin had other practical uses—many tribes flattened strips of pumpkins, dried them and made mats, especially for trading purposes. They also dried out the pumpkins’ shells, turning them into bowls and containers to store grain, beans and seeds, states allaboutpumpkins.com.