History of the Halloween pumpkin, plus recipes ideas

This Halloween, we're looking at all things pumpkin - from carving to cooking, here you'll find the story behind the Halloween pumpkin, plus some tasty recipes to make

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 06:  Pumpkins were harvested during the annual fall harvest of the White House Kitchen Garden October 6, 2015 at the White House in Washington, DC. The Kitchen Garden, which started in 2009, is part of the first lady's Let's Move! Initiative.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Fruit or vegetable?

Pumpkins are a member of the squash family and are believed to have originated in North America. Pumpkins are actually a type of fruit and there are around 500 varieties worldwide, growing in many different shapes and sizes. They take up to five months to grow and are harvested in the UK between October and December. Pumpkin provides an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fibre, plus the seeds are full of zinc and antioxidants.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31:  An installation of 3,000 candle-lit pumpkins blanket the canal side steps at Granary Square on October 31, 2014 in London, England.  The pumpkins, created by members of youth development group Global Generation and other carvers, will be on display and illuminated from dusk until Saturday November 1, 2014.  (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)
Pumpkin festivals are held around the country every Halloween, showing off the art of pumpkin carving © Getty

What is the story behind pumpkin carving? 

Every Halloween, glowing orange faces scowl at you from doorsteps, as the Halloween tradition of carving pumpkins commences. This tradition began in Ireland in response to a popular folktale about a man who carried a carved-out turnip filled with glowing coal with him in the afterlife. Irish immigrants introduced the custom to America, where the round orange pumpkins we use today are readily available, and the ‘Jack-o’-lantern’ was born. Since the 1990s, pumpkin carving for Halloween has become an increasingly popular activity across Britain.

How to carve

This Halloween, learn how to carve the perfect pumpkin with our simple step-by-step guide: 

Children making Halloween Jack O’lanterns
Pumpkin carving is a great family activity © Getty
  1. Using a sharp knife, cut around the top of the pumpkin.
  2. With a large spoon, scoop out the seeds and some of the flesh from the inside.
  3. With a marker, draw out your design on to the pumpkin. Make it as simple or as creative as you like! Then with a smaller sharp knife, begin to carve out your design.  Always cut away from you, to avoid any injuries.
  4. Place a tealight inside the candle, light, and replace the lid of the pumpkin.

Make sure children have adult supervision at all times when carving.

The National Trust are hosting a number of pumpkin-carving workshops. Whether you’re throwing a Halloween party or just looking to scare the neighbours, it’s sure to be a success.

HOO, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 04:  The new pumpkin crop is seen in the field at "PYO Pumpkins" on October 4, 2017 in Hoo, England.  The company began in 2009 and allows families to visit the site to pick their own pumpkins, ahead of Halloween events on October 31.  (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Millions of pumpkins are grown in Britain every year © Getty

Pumpkin farming in the UK

Due to the ever-growing demand for the winter squash, UK farmers are producing more and more each year. In fact, Britain is home to Europe’s largest pumpkin grower, in Lincolnshire, producing a whopping 2 million pumpkins per year. But come the end of October, demand drops dramatically – so is it worth it for the farmers? Adam Henson explores the rise of pumpkin farming in the UK and the downfalls of the industry.

Three tasty pumpkin recipes to make this Halloween

Pumpkins have a lot more to offer than just creepy lanterns: they’re also an incredibly versatile ingredient in the kitchen.  From creamy soups to sweet pies, there are plenty of ways to incorporate a delicious squash into your cooking. Come the end of All Hallows Eve, there will be many a pumpkin to use up – so why not rustle up something tasty? Celebrate Halloween with these tasty pumpkin recipes from BBC Good Food Magazine

Tom Kerridge’s Pumpkin and Bacon Soup taken from BBC Good Food © BBC Good Food/Peter Cassidy

Tom Kerridge’s pumpkin & bacon soup

Make this tasty pumpkin soup to use up your Halloween glut/Credit: Peter Cassidy

Check your local farmers’ market for Crown Prince pumpkins – they have a silvery, blue-green skin and sweet, firm flesh. Butternut or onion squash are a good alternative.

SERVES 4 PREP 10 mins

COOK 1 hr 10 mins EASY


1 tbsp vegetable oil

50g butter

1 onion, finely chopped

150g maple-cured bacon, cut into small pieces

1/2 Crown Prince pumpkin or onion

Squash, peeled, deseeded and

Cut into medium chunks (you need about 500g pumpkin flesh)

1 litre chicken stock

100ml double cream

3 tbsp pumpkin seeds, toasted

maple syrup, for drizzling


1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil with 25g butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook on a low heat for 10 mins or until soft.

2. Add 60g bacon and cook for a further 5 mins until the bacon releases its fat. Then increase the heat to medium, add the pumpkin and stock and season. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for about 40 mins until the pumpkin is soft.

Pumpkin, fennel & Taleggio galette

Pumpkin, fennel and taleggio galette/Credit: Helen Cathcart

Serves 6 Ready in 35 mins

Cook 1 hr 30 mins 


700g pumpkin or 1 small squash

5 tbsp olive oil

grating of nutmeg

2 small fennel bulbs

juice 1/2 small lemon

1/2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and coarsely crushed

470g spinach, coarse stalks removed

15g unsalted butter

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tsp milk (to make an egg wash)

200g Taleggio (or vegetarian alternative), sliced

375g puff pastry


1. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Peel the squash, then halve and deseed it before cutting the flesh into thick wedges and halving them again to make quarters. Put the slices in a roasting tin with half the olive oil, the nutmeg and seasoning, and toss to coat. Roast for 30 mins, or until tender and a little caramelised.

2. Halve the fennel bulbs lengthways and remove the tops and tough outer leaves from each piece. Trim the base and cut each half into thick wedges, keeping them intact at the base. Put the wedges straight into a bowl and toss with the lemon juice to prevent discolouring. Add the fennel seeds, remaining olive oil and some seasoning, then toss well.

3. Spread the fennel in a roasting tin large enough to hold it in a single layer and cover with foil. Roast the fennel (at the same time as the squash) for 20 mins, or until tender with pale-gold undersides.

4. Wash the spinach and cook in a covered pan over a medium heat for 1-2 mins. When wilted, drain in a colander and leave to cool.

5. Squeeze the excess moisture out of the spinach, chop roughly and season. Melt the butter in a frying pan and quickly fry the spinach with the garlic for 3 mins. Set aside.

6. Roll out the pastry to make the base of the tart, ending up with a piece measuring roughly 28 x 38cm. Put the pastry base on to a floured metal baking sheet. Create a border all the way round by lightly running a knife 2cm from the edge. Prick the rest of the pastry all over with a fork. Put a rectangle of baking parchment, the size of the inside of the border, over the pastry. Weight it down with baking beans. Knock up the sides of the pastry by holding a small knife at a right angle to the pastry and making small indentations to release the layers. This will give you a better rise. Paint the border with the egg wash.

7.  Put the pastry in the preheated oven and cook for 25 mins, removing the beans and paper after 15 mins. Take the partially cooked tart base out of the oven and, if the centre has risen, gently flatten it with the back of a wooden spoon. Turn the oven up to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.

8.  Spoon the spinach onto the pastry, then put the squash and fennel on top. Distribute the cheese over the top, too. Put the tart back into the oven and cook for a further 25 mins. The cheese should be golden in patches and the pastry should be cooked and golden, but not too dark.

Recipe Supplied From BBC Good Food Magazine

Pumpkin and sage spaghetti

Pumpkin and sage spaghetti/Credit: Peter Williams

This dish is a marriage of the sweet golden pumpkin, which is much loved in Mantua and Cremona in northern Italy, and spaghetti

from further south.

Ready in 35-45 minutes

Serves 4

Suitable for vegetarians


800g/1lb 12oz pumpkin flesh, chopped into small cubes

1 tsp golden caster sugar

100g/4oz butter

Small bunch sage leaves, about

20, roughly chopped

350g/12oz dried spaghetti

Juice of 1 lemon

50g/2oz parmesan, grated


1. Tip the pumpkin into a medium-sized saucepan that has a tight-fitting lid. Sprinkle over the sugar and a generous pinch of salt, then drizzle over 6 tablespoons of water. Cover the pan, place on a medium heat and steam the pumpkin, stirring every so often for 10-15 minutes, or until it is soft but still holds its shape. You may need to add a spoonful or two of water during the cooking if the pan seems dry. Set aside.

2 . While the pumpkin is steaming, tip the butter and sage into a small saucepan and heat gently until the butter is foaming, then turn on the heat. Boil the spaghetti in a big pan of salted water for about 10 minutes until just cooked. When the spaghetti is cooked, scoop out a little of the cooking water, then drain and return the spaghetti to the pan.

3. Put the sage butter over a high heat until sizzling, then pour in the lemon juice and let it splutter for a second. Tip the pumpkin, melted butter, 3-4 tbsp pasta water and half the parmesan in with the spaghetti and give it a really good stir. Season generously with salt and pepper and serve with the remaining parmesan to sprinkle over.

Recipe Supplied From BBC Good Food Magazine


Main image: © Getty