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Last Updated: Monday, 31 October 2005, 12:55 GMT
Pumpkin passions
WHO, WHAT, WHY?
The Magazine answers...

Pumpkins
In the UK 99% of pumpkins are used as lanterns
Brits bought one million pumpkins last year for Halloween and the sale of culinary pumpkins is also on the rise. Why are they becoming so popular?

Best known as an American tradition, Halloween is now the third most lucrative festival after Christmas and Easter in the UK. An estimated 100m is spent on the festival annually, according to the retailer Woolworths.

Irish immigrants, fleeing the potato famine in the 1840s, took Halloween to the US, where it was embraced. An estimated 86% of people now decorate their homes for the festival and it has turned into a 1.7bn industry.

Pumpkin capital

American's commercialised version started to surface in Britain in the late 1990s and the country has fallen under its spell in a big way.

Its rise in popularity has triggered a huge demand for pumpkins, with one million bought in the UK last year for Halloween, according to retailers, 99% of which were used as lanterns.

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The pumpkin capital of the world is - not surprisingly - in the USA, Morton in Illinois. But the little-known pumpkin capital of the UK is Spalding in Lincolnshire. It is home to Europe's largest pumpkin based producer David Bowman, who grows two million a year.

"The pumpkin trade in the UK has gone crazy in the last five years," he says. "When I started out 30 years ago I grew about 40 pumpkins each year, now it's two million. Demand for my pumpkins has trebled in the last five years.

"It is mainly down to the popularity of Halloween but we have also started noticing a higher demand for culinary pumpkins. People are now getting a taste for them."

Chef David Reid puts this demand down to more people eating seasonal food and the American influence.

"Health conscious people are much more interested in eating and experimenting with seasonal fruit and veg grown in the UK," he said. "Also, the Americans eat it much more than we do over here and that has an influence. The Brits want to taste a bit of the US's traditional pumpkin pie."

But despite the burgeoning taste for pumpkins growing them is not lucrative enough to sustain a business alone.

Shortage

"We have other businesses as well," says Mr Bowman. "While demand is increasing, supermarkets want them at lower and lower prices. I got more money selling a pumpkin when I started 30 years ago than I do now."

Halloween wasn't always synonymous with these huge orange gourds. The custom used to be to make a lantern out of a turnip or swede, but when the Irish pitched up in America there was a distinct lack of such things, so they substituted pumpkins instead.

According to ancient Celtic tradition the carved face and a burning light placed inside welcomes home the spirits of our ancestors.

There are over 50 different types, from the Spooktacular to the Munchkin.


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