MORE of us now buy pumpkins for Halloween than get Christmas trees in our homes for the festive season – and it is predicted more than 17million will be sold this year.
Instagram is awash with celebrities visiting hand-picking patches, “doorscaping” house entrances with pumpkins and dressing dogs and children as them.
Meanwhile, searches for “pumpkin patch” soared by 90 per cent in the first week of September and some of the top patches have been hashtagged more than 15,000 times.
But why have we gone so potty for pumpkins?
Originally, vegetables such as turnips were carved into demonic faces — jack-o’-lanterns — to ward off evil spirits, and it was only in the US that pumpkins were used.
But in recent years, with milder winters and dryer summers in the UK, farmers have been able to grow generous hordes of them over here.
Over the past five years, farmer Jono Smales, 44, has quadrupled the number he grows to 200,000 so he can meet the demand.
Jono, who runs Lyburn Farm near Salisbury, Wilts, says most of his stock goes to garden centres, Halloween events and to pumpkin patches where his crops are not grown but put on display for visitors to choose.
He says: “During Covid, everyone loved going to pumpkin patches as there were no restrictions because they were ‘pick-your-own’ and it was food.
“Everything went up three gears and the momentum is carrying on.
"It also coincides with the autumn half-term week and parents love to get the kids out to learn where their food comes from.”
You only need to scroll the social media feeds of celebrity mums such as Vogue Williams, Zoe “Zoella” Sugg, Frankie Bridge, Binky Felstead, Helen Flanagan and Ferne McCann to see that the hottest place to be this month is not the red carpet but in a pumpkin patch.
Sebastian Boppert, of ticket platform Eventbrite, says interest at the UK’s 200 patches has been so high this year that two thirds of all available tickets for October were snapped up in September.
He adds: “Families are having to plan their picking slot like their summer holiday.”
Part of the reason for the craze is down to the pumpkin’s distinctive appearance.
They are a member of the cucumber family, along with melons, marrows and courgettes, and can be grown to huge sizes — from a few inches across to several feet.
Last year, father and son team Gerald and Oliver Short grew one weighing 1,558lb on their Oxfordshire allotment.
But it was some way off the 2,706lb world record set by an Italian.
The orange flesh can be cut into spooky lanterns, with faces created with crudely cut-out triangles.
But in recent years, carving intricate patterns has become a competitive art encouraged by YouTube online courses.
The popularity of Instagram has meant carvers can now show off their creations to a huge worldwide audience.
WHITE 'GHOST' PUMPKINS
The trend has also been boosted by new variations coming on to the market, such as white “ghost” pumpkins that have been bred from a genetic mutation.
According to supermarket giant Tesco, demand for novelty types increased by more than 60 per cent last year.
Two years ago, Loose Women star Stacey Solomon, who has more than 4.5million Instagram followers, posted a picture of her front door that had been turned into an autumn wonderland with a selection of pumpkins and an autumn wreath.
She repeats the door-scaping each autumn and many more families have followed suit.
Digital marketing strategist Karen Powell says: “A lot of pumpkin-inspired posts are driven by influencer culture, with the perfect pumpkin photo now a seasonal must-have.
“Due to the restrictions of the past 18 months, many people have also been focusing more on home decor.
“Decorated front doors like Stacey’s are aspirational. They have huge appeal from the kerb but also look fantastic on the Instagram grid.”
It is not just the bright orange appearance that has made pumpkins so popular.
The fleshy inside is also a useful recipe ingredient.
Sustainable food expert Imogen Tinkler, co- founder of food website Bangers And Balls, says: “Pumpkins look amazing, are easy to do and don’t take up much space.
“Plus, you can buy one for as little as 60p.”
The flavour is now added to everything from coffees to doughnuts, a trend that started in 2003 with the launch of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte which runs to 450million sales a year.
The hot drinks are so popular that UK bakery chain Greggs has launched its own version for £1.95.
Booze comes with a pumpkin flavour too, including the Mozart chocolate cream pumpkin spice liqueur, on sale at Ocado for £15.
Go into any supermarket and you will find products such as Asda’s pumpkin spiced bagels for £1 or M&S’s pumpkin spiced loaf cake for £2.90.
Imogen, who is also an authority on branding, reckons we can thank author JK Rowling for the trend.
HARRY POTTER'S FAVE
She says: “Harry Potter’s favourite drink is pumpkin juice, which definitely has a halo effect.
“Pumpkins fit this need perfectly with so many delicious treats you can make, from pumpkin spiced syrup to soup.
“It is cheap, warm and delicious.”
So it is no wonder many of us are feeding it to our pets too, not to mention dressing them up in cute little pumpkin outfits.
Animal nutrition experts say pumpkin helps to regulate pets’ digestion and it now comes in pureed form for both cats and dogs, as well as Halloween treats.
There are also more than 230 pumpkin outfits for dogs on Amazon.
The pumpkin is said to be full of vitamins and antioxidants, so the beauty industry has taken advantage of people’s fascination with the fruit, adding it to their products.
High Street beauty chain Lush this year launched a bath bomb for £4.50, which contains pumpkin powder, as well as a pumpkin spice soap for £5.
So while we only have a few days to go until Halloween, our appetite for pumpkins does not seem to be going anywhere soon.
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