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Friday, October 28, 2011

Got Orange?….

Pumpkin field…October, when the world is pumpkin wonderful…

(with apologies to e.e. cummings)

As Gladys and I looked over my shoulder and she over her fenders today, we could see a gauzy curtain of snow settling on Mt. Pilchuck and the Cascades. The garden shivers and daily the summer colors fade, chameleon-like, into winter’s drab. In fact most of the color is gone, exchanged for brown decay…all color, that is, except one. Orange. Yes, orange rules these days. In our garden mounds of orange announce themselves where they have plumped up above the leaves. I have watched them nearly from blossom to globe, first green softballs, then to soccer balls, and now orange basketballs. In summer they seem to grow larger by the day. Now they squat in their orange splendor, wondering what’s in store for them next.Pumpkin porch

Yes, orange is the color of the day. On porches and railings, guarding sidewalks, bulging from bins at the grocery stores or piled along storefronts like some Cristo study in orange. I saw three large truckloads of pumpkins cruise by the house heading south, destiShelves of orangenation most likely Remlinger Farms. Beebe's flower stand offers any color you want these days, as long as it’s orange. For the pumpkin purchaser’s convenience three sizes of pumpkin bear price tags: you have your five dollar globe, your three dollar Momma bear Pick your takepumpkin, and your dainty diminutive for just a buck. And Kurt’s vegetable stand is a blur of orange as you drive by.

Pumpkins are really just a species of edible gourd. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word appears in literature (the pumpkin is a very literary vegetable, you know) as early as 1647 and gives variant spellings of “pumkin, “pomkin,” and “punkin.” The word seems to have some onomatopoeic value: “plumpkin/pumpkin”--(a “pumped up” kin?). Displaying the crop

Pumpkins dominate the season; the rites of fall center around this cheerful gourd. Just watch a child walk by a stack of pumpkins, see him stop dead in his tracks in wonder. Wander with your children through a pumpkin patch and watch their confusion: so many…which one? (Chances are it will be the largest…and guess who has to tote the globe to the car?) It’s the pumpkin latte time of year. Soon there’ll be that wedge of golden brown pie crowned with whipped cream daring you to find just a little more room for it after the holiday feast. The pumpkin is the patron saint of Halloween; if you don’t have a globe hollowed out and spitting candlelight when the spirits of the eve stop by to call, well I guess you’re the Grinch of Halloween. Get in the spirit of orange or your car might just be transformed into a pumpkin on All Saints’ Day!Pumpkin sincerity

I can’t recall a year we didn’t have a pumpkin patch in the backyard garden. (If nothing else, we are sincere gardeners.) If you have children, they deserve their own pumpkin patch. Pumpkins are easy to grow—and unlike tomatoes they aren’t vulnerable to late blight—and they’re much cheaper from your own garden: at twenty-nine cents a pound some of those big fatties can run up your bill.

At harvest time I would clip the stems from the stalks and my daughter would lift one at time, line them up, and count back down the row after she placed each one. I was mercenary even in those times and I’m ashamed to admit now, but I would warn my little girl as she struggled with each heavy pumpkin: “Be careful not to snap the stems or you won’t be able to sell them.” Those were the days I sold honey roadside. After the wares were displayed on the bed of the truck, daughter and I would line the driveway with our pumpkins. Reader boards, garish signs, or search lights couldn’t have been better advertising than that row of orange globes highlighting  the driveway. Even though just up the road Kurt’s vegetable stand had pumpkins galore, city folk, dazzled by orange, would stop and buy one of our pumpkins. When they asked the price, (I would tell them the proceeds were for my daughter’s college education… her“yellidge” education, she called it… and the cash would leap happily from their wallets).  Every nickel eventually went to the U of W, I’m sure. We would sell all our entire crop, a dozen or so, the first couple of weekends in October. Field PumpkinsWith so many pumpkin patches in the area, plus the truckloads of orange that are available everywhere, I’m amazed all these pumpkins find homes; however, every season as October 31st approaches, these mountains of gourds have dwindled away until just a few misshapen orphans remain. (Seems to me I remember viewing the hippo exhibit at Woodland Park Zoo several years ago where a keeper was tossing pumpkins into the cavernous mouths of the huge “river horses” who crunched them between their jaws like they were eating grapes.)

Our former neighbors “Those Rollers,”to my knowledge, are the biggest advocates of the cheerful gourd. Their other gardening efforts were less than spectacular, but where pumpkins were concerned, those Rollers were most sincere--Mr. Darren Roller particularly so. (Darren was a responsible dog owner, too, and shortly after his family moved in next door, he erected an electric fence to discourage his American Bulldog “Big Otis” from wandering over to our place and inflicting serious damage by lashing us with that ever happy tail of his.)

Also a responsible pumpkin grower, Darren erected a hog wire fence along our property line to keep his pumpkins from trespassing. One season a pumpkin tried to escape his patch, was most sincere about squeezing its way through the mesh, nearly did, and but fOn the fenceor a rapid growth spurt, would have succeeded, too. The pumpkin’s plumping itself into captivity destined it for the carving knife; on Halloween day it was eviscerated where it hung. I cut a grimace into its posterior and posed it with a grinning Kyle Roller (Kyle is the one on the left, by the way). Jack and friendHalloween eve, its innards aglow, Jack ‘o the Fence smiled away as if it were a spirit hovering midair.

Jack's braces

Most pumpkins this time of the year are destined for carving. In fact pumpkin carving has developed into a fine art…something about the orange skin of the squash that makes it a rotund canvas for those skilled with a knife. (A local pumpkin artist I hear has recently been invited to the White House to display her talents. I believe she intends to gouge the likeness of Kim Kardashian into the flesh of a carefully selected gourd. A waste of talent, time and pumpkin it seems to me…although I wouldn’t mind a bit if Kim—or the whole lot of the Kardashians, for that matter—were changed into pumpkins.) No talent like that around here for our garden pumpkins. Just enough crude geometry to allow the candlelight to seep into the darkness. However, we do have a pumpkin tradition in our family that requires no more talent other than a basic level of literacy. The flesh of the pumpkin is easily scarified and while the pumpkins are still in their “green” form, each year I carve the name of a family member or friend into their skins. Come pumpkin picking time, those so “personalized” are invited into the garden to claim their pumpkins. I’ve attached a couple examples past…and present:Personalized pumpkin




Aside from pumpkin aesthetics these globes, too, are the stuff food is made of; you don’t have to be a hippo yourself to enjoy the taste of pumpkin. At their dinnertime my favorite lady detective, Precious Ramotswe of Botswana (Alexander McCall Smith’s “The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency”series), frequently brings home a fat pumpkin for husband Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni and their two adopted children. I think those who settle for pumpkin that has been scooped out of a store-bought can are missing out on the real thing if they don’t set aside some orange for the kitchen, bake it and use its flesh for a variety of delightful dishes. 

This weekend I will harvest the most sincere pumpkin from the season’s crop, set it beside the woodstove to warm (I simply can’t abide thrusting my hand into the chilly innards of a pumpkin), and most likely carve into my victim a primitive face very much the same as last year’s.

And if you haven’t done so already, I expect you’ll do likewise. October thirty-first is almost upon us, so go fetch the pumpkin and weapon of your choice, put your talent to the sticking place, and carve a face guaranteed to delight those who’ll show up on your doorstep to collect their annual quota of empty calories.

Oh, yes…and don’t forget to roast the seeds!Alas, poor jack

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  1. Great post Dad! To this day, I never grab a pumpkin by the stem. Oh, and the Binkel globe is displayed nicely on the front porch.

  2. Pumpkin stems...Cisco Morris recommends leaving a long stem when you harvest a pumpkin and maintains doing so increases its "shelf life."