Pondering Pumpkins

Here it is: October. Our favorite holiday is at the end of this month. Giving my kids a reason to dress up and ask for candy, well, that’s just heaven for them. I went back through some of my old Augusta Country columns. I kind of remembered that I wrote something about pumpkins. In keeping with my pledge to give you something other than news about the book, here it is. Enjoy!

Pondering Pumpkins

Ever wonder about pumpkins?
Since my daughter has come along, she has given me pause to wonder about many things. Things that really are amazing and over the years I have come to take for granted. Like airplanes. She loves airplanes and insists on pointing to every one as it flies over our house. Every single time. And the moon. She looks for it every time we go outside. In the evening when she first spots it, she blows kisses to it.
So now she is on to pumpkins. Of all the harvest and Halloween images around, that is the one that she is most thrilled with. Big and orange and round, with happy faces carved into them, pumpkins must look friendly and warm to her-far from what their scary intentions really are. So, I began to wonder about pumpkins.
I found that pumpkin carving is a relatively new tradition in the realm of all things Halloween.
The origin of Halloween dates back 2000 years ago to the Celtic celebration of the dead—Samhain. A festival was held on November 1, the first day of the Celtic New Year. The Celts believed that the souls of the dead returned on the evening before November 1. These early events began as both a celebration of the harvest and an honoring of dead ancestors.
Halloween spread throughout Europe in the seventh century. It began with “All Hallows Eve” the “Night of the Dead.” It is immediately followed by “All Souls Day,” a Christian holy day still celebrated today by some Catholics.
The first lighted fruit was really carved out gourds and turnips. Sometime along the way, they were replaced by pumpkins, which were larger and easier to carve. European custom also included the lighting of pumpkins with scary faces to ward of evil spirits, especially spirits who roamed the streets and country during All Hallows Eve.
The Irish brought the tradition of carving turnips and even potatoes with them to America. They quickly discovered that pumpkins were easier to carve.
The harvesting and use of pumpkins was already well ensconced into the Native American culture when the setters first came here. (In fact, Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Seeds from related plants found in Mexico dating back over 7000 years to 5500 B.C. )
Historians are not really sure if pumpkins were a part of the first Thanksgiving feast. But from that time forward, pumpkins have been and continue to be a tradition at the Thanksgiving feast.
Not only is it associated with the meal itself, but the pumpkin has adorned and decorated homes and communities in honor of this event for hundreds of years.
Although the pumpkin enjoys great popularity at this time of the year, and a interesting history, I was surprised to find how many pumpkin aficionados exist. There are pumpkin websites and homepages, with names like Jim’s Giant Pumpkin Page, The Pumpkin Master, and the Pumpkin Nook. There is even a town that claim it is the “Pumpkin capitol of the world”—Morton, Illinois, which is where Libby has its plant.
Growing pumpkins seems a long and tricky task. Manuals I checked suggest planting inside toward the end of April, and transplanting around the middle of May, after you’ve gotten some leaves on your plants. All of the guides say that you can not overwater your pumpkins If you have given them enough water, sunlight, shade, and keep the bugs away, Maturity comes in late September.
In the mean time, the next best thing to growing them yourself is to go to a pumpkin farm and pick out your own. We took Emma to the Pumpkin Patch in Stuarts Draft on a sunny Saturday morning. It has the added benefit of having animals to view—calves, chickens, pigs, sheep, a donkey, and the one that made the biggest impression on Emma—the turkey.
We strolled through the fields with the mountains in clear view and pumpkins everywhere we looked. They even had a few scarecrows and bales of hay sitting around. What a perfect way to celebrate the season.
We helped Emma pick out a pumpkin; she then selected several small, brightly colored gourds, delighting in their textures. Seeing the joy on her chubby, 22-month old face, surrounded by pumpkins and gourds, made me realize that I must try to plant some pumpkins and gourds next year. Of course, by the time they reach harvest, Emma will most assuredly be on to something else.

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