October 27, 2015 | Ebi Kondo, Curator of the Japanese Garden

Carved pumpkins or jack-o-lanterns are a familiar decoration during the Halloween season. It brings our attention to mid-autumn and the upcoming winter.

The origin of the jack-o-lantern is from northern Europe – specifically Ireland and Scotland – where the turnip was carved instead of a pumpkin. The carved pumpkin is a tradition that began after immigrants came to United States.

Historically, the turnip was a very popular root cellar vegetable as it was easily stored for long periods and provided good nutrients during the cold winter.

There are two kinds of turnips: the Asiatic turnip that originates from Afghanistan and European varieties that hail from the Mediterranean region of the Middle East. The turnip traveled and spread all over the world centuries ago, as we see it in the diet of many cultures.

In Japan, I grew up with a well-loved storybook for children called "A Gigantic Turnip," which originated from a Russian folk tale. A farmer found an enormous turnip in his vegetable patch the size of a small house. He struggled to pull it out from the ground. After getting help from all his family members and the farm animals (dog, cat and mouse), they successfully harvested the gigantic turnip.

   

Some beautiful turnips are in Le Potager garden at Denver Botanic Gardens, and similar to the team work lesson of the book, are a result of the kind help and hard work from the Gardens’ volunteers.

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