From the file "You are never too old to learn something new," I discovered that after more than five decades of carving Halloween jack-o'-lanterns out of pumpkins, I've learned I've actually been carving scary features into the flesh of a fruit, not a vegetable, as I've always believed.
Yep. According to botanists, pumpkins share the same heritage as peaches, apples and grapes. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the confusion arises out of the differences in the way scientists and cooks use them.
Strictly speaking, the pumpkin is a fruit because it develops from a flower and has seeds. Its origin puts it into the same category, technically at least, with eggplants and tomatoes.
Cooks, on the other hand, label fruits and vegetables according to how they affect the dish they are preparing. A vegetable is used in savory foods, and fruits in sweet cooking.
So, if you consider pumpkin pies as sweet, it stands to reason the main ingredient is a fruit.
I have no idea what this theory does for pumpkin soup, which is savory rather than sweet.
Adding further confusion to this conundrum,
The origin of the Halloween jack-o'-lantern stems from ancient Ireland where people carved out turnips and potatoes and placed candles inside for protection on All Hallow's Eve. The idea was to keep ghosts, that were said to return to earth to walk the streets, from playing tricks on the living.
When Irish people immigrated to America, they brought along the tradition. They found that carved pumpkins could replace turnips and potatoes.
Since then, a new trend in jack-o'-lantern carving has developed in the craft industry. Today, stencils, specialized cutting tools and online sources are available to help you bring out the "soul" hidden inside every pumpkin-turned jack-o'-lantern.
Better Homes and Gardens online magazine provides free stencils so you can make anyone of 36 faces on your pumpkin this year. They can be found at http://www.bhg.com/holidays/?sss dmhdm17.470505&day11&esrcnw100dt_11_11&email781738. Additionally, you can purchase special tools to make it more safe to carve the stencil into your pumpkin when you are creating your own jack-o'-lantern masterpiece.
Younger children will need assistance from an adult to make this craft.
Depending on the size of your pumpkin, use a photocopier to enlarge or reduce the size of the stencil you've chosen. Make sure the pumpkin has at least one fairly flat side for carving.
Cut the top of the pumpkin off and save for the lid. Make the opening large to remove the seeds and pulp inside by scraping it away. Discard. Wash and dry the pumpkin.
Fold the paper into pleats and tape wherever necessary to make the stencil lay flat when taped to the pumpkin.
Use a push pin to make closely-spaced pin pricks along the stencil lines, piercing the paper. With the help on an adult, use the pumpkin carving tools to carve out your design.
Cut completely through solid lines and peel away the skin (known as etching) along the dotted lines to enhance the features. You may want to etch before you carve to avoid breakage.