Haunted History of Halloween Favorites–Pumpkins and Apples

Day 167 of 365

My farmer-ish side has always loved the foods of harvest season. And my little bit witchy side has always loved magical stories and folklore. If there’s a superstitious story, I have always wanted to hear it, so I decided to put these loves together and tell some stories tonight about my favorite fall foods, apples and pumpkins, which are not only delicious but have an aesthetic that feels a little bit magical to me.

photo credit: Alina Scheck, Unsplash


You have to start with pumpkins, right? Of course, it wasn’t pumpkins people originally carved into Jack O Lanterns on All Hallow’s Eve; it was turnips. According to the history, Celtic people in Ireland and Scotland carved faces into turnips in order to keep “Stingy Jack” away. The myth goes that Stingy Jack tricked the Devil into paying for his drink, and when Stingy Jack died, God would not let him into heaven, and the Devil would not let him into Hell because of his trickery. So Stingy jack was doomed to haunt the earth as an angry spirit, and people carved faces into turnips and put a candle in them, placing them in their windowsills to keep away Stringy Jack and other dark spirits.

When immigrants came to the United States, they brought the Jack O Lantern tradition with them, but here in North America, pumpkins were abundant in the fall and made fantastic Jack O Lanterns. Now, here we are, still carving pumpkins and putting candles inside them. How wonderful is that?

I carved this pumpkin a few years ago, and I think it will always be one of my favorites.

But pumpkins have a magnificent history outside of our Halloween traditions. In my research, I found that Native Americans used pumpkins for everything from medicine to pies; they even dried the shells to make bowls. What a beautiful bowl a pumpkin would make, right? And there is the Native American legend of the three sisters, which appears in many different cultures in different forms, but the pumpkin or squash, along with corn and beans, are life giving women when they are together.


I have written about apples before, and I think most people know a lot of the traditional myths and legends related to apples. There’s the Adam and Eve story, and in more than one culture, apples are associated with eternal youth. I thought I would find some additional and interesting apple stories to share. I think my favorite new-to-me apple myth is that unicorns have been associated with apple trees because they love apples. I mean, who doesn’t? So, of course, unicorns love apples.

But I also learned that apples have their own kind of magic. Because apples ripen in the fall, their seeds have to make it through the long, dark winter before they can start to grow in the spring. Because of this, apples represent a magic of trust. And, along the lines of trust, I read that, if you want happiness in your relationship, cut an apple in half and share it with your loved one. I don’t know about you, but trust and love go hand in hand for me.

I also learned about ghost apples, and they are so beautiful–both kinds. One kind of ghost apple occurs when an apple rots inside ice that forms around the apple after an ice storm, and a shape of an apple is left in ice. There is also a variety of apple that is white and called a ghost apple. It is a variety with white skin and white flesh and is apparently more common in other countries but will grow here in North America. I read they taste kind of a golden delicious. Wouldn’t it be cool to see a real-life ghost apple?

I wish to write more, but it is late. I also ran across the history of candy corn in my research for this post, and while candy corn doesn’t seem very farmer-ish, it’s my favorite Halloween candy, though it seems to be hated by so many. I guess I always love the underdog.

You’re a Dragon

Day 159 of 365

photo credit: Julia Kicova, Unsplash

I wanted to write about eating seasonally tonight, but I find myself with too much work tonight. Still, I’m determined to write about eating seasonally tomorrow, and tonight, I’ll just share that we are greatly enjoying apple season. We are eating apples more than once per day every single day. I love apple season, and I find it interesting that all three of us are so joyful about the apples. We have had apple tortillas, apple crisp, apple cake, apple muffins, apple oatmeal, and we eat sliced apples at almost every meal. Today, Ron put up 14 quart bags of apples.

“We need to get more apples,” I said this morning.

“We have two bags in the basement,” Ron said. “You’re a dragon.”

I kind of am when it comes to things like apples. I feel you just can’t have enough to prepare for winter. I need a hoard. Of course, tonight, after cutting up apples all day, Ron said, “We had better go get at least one more bag of apples.”


Apples: Part III

Day 147 of 365

“Foraged Apples, Sweet and Sour” by KierinSight, Unsplash

Just as I was starting to understand that I wanted to change my life, to live more connectedly to nature, to get close to my food, I met a colleague who worked in the grants office at the university where I was teaching, and she understood me as others had not yet been able to. I treasured her. One day, I arrived for a meeting, and she had a gift for me—a bag of organic apples from a farm near where she lived in New York state. I held those apples with such love and admiration, and my gratefulness to this person ran so deep. I am a person who is deeply grateful for gifts. It seems so wonderful that someone thinks of me to give me anything. But organic apples! What gift in the world could I have loved more? 

Apples and I keep having these “run-ins” of sorts, so I have to write just a little bit more. Plus, there’s something about a trilogy, I think. I have been thinking about why I love apples so much all week. I realize, after a week of pondering apples, they represent hope to me. 

Apples are special, not in their sweetness and beauty, but in their sweetness, beauty, and durability. After all, strawberries are so sweet and beautiful, as are raspberries, and so many other beautiful fruits from the harvests here in Maine. But apples. Apples can last. You don’t even have to freeze a good storage apple like a Granny Smith or a Liberty. Even the ever-so-sweet Honeycrisp stores well. You just wrap them in newspapers and put them in a basket in the basement, and those apples will feed you for months. How generous of them to be so sweet and so sturdy.

The events of my life so far have shown me that sturdiness is important. I have this feeling it’s going to be even more important as life goes on. 

Climate change is already making our lives harder, and it feels like things are really just getting started. Still, there is some acceptance I notice in myself that I didn’t have before. Because I work with people in the sciences on their dissertations, I have noticed a shift in the rhetoric about climate change in the last year or so. 

For a while, there were the warnings: “Listen up, climate change is going to happen if we don’t do something right now.” Then, the rhetoric got really unusual. Scientists were angry, yelling, desperate to get our attention, something not common at all in academic writing: “Listen here! This is serious! We’re not even kidding!” Of course, it seems the course was set. Now, there is a shift toward a kind of acceptance: “Okay, so this is happening. Let’s help humanity figure out how to adjust, migrate, adapt, survive.” 

Somehow, though I would have thought this place of acceptance would feel more hopeless to me, it feels more hopeful. Maybe it’s that the reality of it cannot be avoided, but it seems like more and more, the people I know—and not just the scientists—are looking for ways to adapt, which often involves learning how to live more in harmony with Nature. The farmers I talk to are nothing short of heroic to me, but they are determined. And, in seeing this, I find solace—and hope. 

The state of affairs with the apple exemplifies what smart people can do when they have to. When Michael Pollan published The Botany of Desire in 2001, he expressed deep concern for the state of the apple. We had farmed the diversity right out of the apple, and lack of diversity within any species is dangerous for that species. If everyone is the same, it doesn’t take much to wipe everyone out. Strength is diversity. Isn’t it interesting that this seems to be a truth humans struggle so greatly to learn? 

But true it is, and, thankfully, people like Michael Pollan raised awareness about the apple. Then, more people started doing something about it. Farmers started to work hard to preserve heirloom varieties of apples. Small farmers and individuals got involved and started working to ensure more apples varieties were cultivated. And consumers helped too. They showed they were open to different and interesting varieties of apples. 

I used to only buy my apples at chain grocery stores. I remember a time, not that long ago, when I bought apples at the grocery store, I really had just three or four varieties to choose from—Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and a something yellow, maybe a Gala, maybe a Golden Delicious. Today, even at the chains, I see at least seven or eight varieties, sometimes more in apple season. And so many people now shop from small farms and at farmers markets. In John Forti’s speech at the Common Ground Fair last month, he said that, in the last decade or so, the number of farmers markets in the United States has grown from the hundreds to the thousands–and the growth continues. 

Historians and farmers continue to work together to preserve heirloom apples. The work on this here in my adopted home state of Maine is remarkable. Maine treasures its heirloom apples. I recently discovered a map of heirloom orchards here in Maine and hope to visit one this year. How fantastic would it be to try a Sundance, a Zestar, or a Cox Orange Pippin apple? And there is a whole movement toward cider apples and a market for hard cider. We don’t want to lose this diversity, so we work to keep them going for future generations. 

And if we can work together to ensure future generations have heirloom apples, we can work together to figure out ways to adapt to climate change. Hopefully, right? 

Apples are such a gift, such a reminder that nature is magnificent, sturdy, that humans can be magnificent, and that life can be so sweet, even if we have to be a little sturdy to ensure we can enjoy it. 

I wanted to conclude my apple trilogy with a quote shared with me by a dear friend, one who sees through my wall of protection so well that I decided to just go ahead and take it down. It’s a quote by Louise Erdrich, from her novel, The Painted Drum, which I have yet to read but is on my list for this coming Winter. When you read this quote, I am certain it will be on your list too because it’s full of truths about life, love, loss–and apples. 

Think of this quote. Go to the apple orchard. Pick the apples. Eat them. Remember to love them. Remember to love. 

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and being alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You have to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes too near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”

Apples: Part II

Day 143 of 365

photo credit: Robson Melo, Unsplash

In a round about way, apples changed my life–made it better–well, helped me make it better. It was Michael Pollan’s chapter on the apple, “Desire: Sweetness / Plant: The Apple” that made me fall in love both with apples and Michael Pollan’s writing. I had always been a fan the apple. I even tried to like the poor Red Delicious growing up. But, after reading that chapter, I developed a deep respect and love for the apple.

I also started reading anything and everything that Michael Pollan wrote. Through his work, I learned a lot about our food system that I had not fully understood before. I really wanted to start eating “real food,” and that led to Ron and I starting a garden and getting chickens. We wanted to be able to grow the best, healthiest food possible, and we wanted our children to eat very well. When I went and picked up the chickens from the post office and met those little girls, I was a changed human. I have never looked back, and thankfully, Ron is truly a master gardener.

We eat well. We live fairly frugally. We work hard to live sustainably. In a way, it all started with the apple.

Today, apples symbolize all that is good to me. They symbolize a change in my life. The symbolize my move to Maine, where apples, especially heirloom apples (which are just another level of magnificent to me) are grown so abundantly. They symbolize the harvest season and the comforts of things like apple pie, apple muffins, and apple cider. I never had hot apple cider until I moved to Maine. No wonder I love Maine.

It’s really a miracle I love apples so much. I do remember loving them as a small child. We were poorer growing up and didn’t usually have fresh fruits in our home, but my mom bought a bag of apples one time when I must have been about 7 or 8. She told me not to eat too many apples while she was at work. I ate too many apples. She scolded me when she found out and told me not to eat any more apples. But that evening was Friday night, which meant it was my weekend to spend at my dad’s house. Sometimes, though I do not know why, we would go stay at my step-mom’s parents’ house instead. That was the best ever! They were so kind and like my grandparents. They were very nurturing humans; plus they had a pool! Have I mentioned I grew up in Texas? Anyway, my mom told my step grandmother, “Nana” to me, to not let me eat any more apples that day, that I would be sick.

I resented my mom for this, as I wanted more apples. And my Nana was a softie. When we got to her house, I asked her for another apple. She had these beautiful green apples on her counter. She relented, and I ate the apple with great satisfaction. A little while later, as I was so sick that I threw up in poor Nana’s bathroom. I remember thinking about my mom: How did she know? I couldn’t eat green apples for nearly ten years, and it took me about a year before I could eat the red ones again. Still, they were apples, so they eventually won me back.

I also grew up in a religion where the apple was forbidden. Ironically, as I mentioned in my Apples: Part I post, in the Biblical story, Eve just ate some random fruit until Milton made it into an apple in his epic poem. But I was always hearing about how terrible Eve was, eating that darn apple, so apples were associated with women being bad in my understanding of my religion as a child. What a tragedy. Of course, I have to tell you, that, even though I was a people pleaser when I was a kid, there was a part of me that always loved that apple because it represented the knowledge Eve was after. On more than one occasion, my questions in Sunday school led to church leaders having an “intervention” to “save my soul.” Clearly, I was asking some great questions and must have had some kind of understanding of Eve just needing to eat that apple to get that knowledge.

Thankfully, as an adult, I have learned that many other religions and cultural traditions treasure the apple like I do. In Norse mythology, there is a goddess who is the keeper of a box of apples that are eaten by the gods to give them youth when they start to grow old. How fantastic is this story? The Romans associated apples with Venus, the goddess of love. My son and I have been learning about Jewish holidays and just learned about Rosh Hashanah and the tradition of eating apples dipped in honey to symbolize hope for a sweet new year. Apples and honey seems like the most magnificent tradition to me.

This weekend, we are finally going to have time to head to the apple orchard, and I am so thankful for this. We have had a tough few weeks as a little family. A trip to the apple orchard is exactly what we need, and I know my heart will be joyful.

Apples: Part I

Day 141 of 365

I was in graduate school before I learned that the Bible doesn’t actually say that Eve ate an apple. It just says she ate a fruit, and I had always thought it was an apple. In art, it’s always the apple. It turns out John Milton, author of the epic poem, Paradise Lost, published in 1667 about the fall of man, said it was an apple. I guess that stuck. Maybe it’s because we really like the aesthetic of apples.

photo credit: Vera De, Unsplash

I have often wondered about this, when a food has an aesthetic we love so much that it becomes a central part of art or decoration in our culture. I wonder about eggs in this same way. Why are eggs so beautiful to me? And I am not alone. Every chicken lady I know spends way too much time taking pictures of eggs and then sharing said pictures on social media. Are the eggs beautiful to us because of something deep inside of us on a primitive level? Eggs are so full of nutrition. Maybe that’s why I love them so, or are they just beautiful?

With apples, I have to believe that their beauty plays a big role in our love for them, but they are nutritious–perhaps not as life giving as the egg–but still. Of course, there’s also hard apple cider, so I supposed apples bring us joy and give humans something in that way too.

This week, our family will go pick apples at a small local orchard. I love picking apples. We have wild apples that grow on our property, which we do not eat, and we planted two apple trees a few years ago. But, so far, the planted apple trees have yet to produce. It could be we have done something wrong for them. Ron and I have much to learn about fruit trees. It’s an area of weakness in our homesteading knowledge, but the pear trees produce most years and were planted just one year before the apple trees.

It’s okay though because we can visit the orchard, and the whole experience is wonderful to me. We will pick a bunch oaf apples. I will make apple pies, apple crisps, and we invented a family treat where I make homemade tortillas and then fill them with cooked apples and cheddar cheese. They are wonderful to me! We will also freeze many bags of apples for future apple pies, apple crisps, and our apple tortilla invention. I wonder if other people would like these. Maybe I will share the recipe. During the pandemic, we had a terrible storm that knocked down or broke many of the big trees on our property. Ron hired a “tree guy” to come in with his team and take down the dangerous trees. It was a group of young men, and they were so sweet and kind. So we made all of them snacks, which included our apple tortilla invention. They seemed to love them. I don’t think they were just being polite. But I digress.

Apples were the first food I fell in love with for its history. If you have not read Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, I highly recommend his chapter on apples. It was a life changer for me. Of course, there is also Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Wild Apples” published in The Atlantic in 1862. Oh, how I wish The Atlantic still published essays on apples. Well, maybe Thoreau said all there was to say.

I have to admit that Thoreau would be ashamed of me that I don’t eat the wild apples on our property, but after rereading his essay this week, I think we should at least get a press and make cider. But then what would the deer eat? Maybe the deer are willing to share?

Please follow my blog: Part II

Day 133 of 365

Tonight, I am sharing information for another giveaway–finally. I have been meaning to do a giveaway since Day 100. This is how I roll, but never late than never, right?

Here are the details of the giveaway…

We are giving away and adorable Farmer-ish Apple Box from our Etsy shop. I adore these Apple Boxes, and I am dreaming up a Halloween Box as I write this. But in the Apple Box, you will find a handmade (by me) apple tote bag made from scraps of beautiful designer fabric, 2 handmade (by me) potholders that I copied from the Magnolia store, a small hardcover copy of Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Wild Apples” (because I love tiny books), an apple pin from The Clever Clove (these are such high quality and so darn cute), and a copy of my best apple pie recipe. It’s all meant to help you treasure apple season.

You do need to live in the U.S. to win because international shipping is just a little bit epic.

Here’s how to win this adorable box:

  1. You can follow or invite a friend to follow our Facebook page.
  2. You can pre-order a copy of Volume II of the print annual between now and Saturday, September 24.
  3. Use your email and sign up to officially follow the blog, if you haven’t already.
  4. Share this post on social media, but you have to let me know by tagging me. If you are like me and struggle to take, you don’t have to tag me. I trust you. Just leave me a message.

And it’s that simple! We will do a drawing Sunday, September 25, the final day of the Common Ground Fair. Please send us good vibes for our first fair as a vendor!