In sunny Southern California, when many fall days boast temperatures more suited to playing at the beach than making soup at home, the presence of pumpkins helps us get in a cozy, leaf changing mood.
Loads of them in the produce section replacing summer fruit displays remind us that even if we go grocery shopping in flip-flops and shorts, the seasons on the coast have in fact changed.
No doubt, pumpkins are a kid’s favorite vegetable – although actually, pumpkins are technically a fruit, since the seeds are on the inside. The point is, kids do not have to eat them steamed or in a salad. Pumpkins are consumed in cookies, pies, and cakes. And, like a yearly pass to play with their food, kids delight in carving pumpkins, making a sticky mess. How can broccoli even compete?
What is it about pumpkins that make us feel nostalgic?
I couldn’t wait to take our first baby to a pumpkin patch. I used up almost a whole roll of film propping him up and posing him amongst the bumpy sea of orange. Kids love selecting their own pumpkin to bring home each year.
The proverb that beauty is in the eye of the beholder rings truer nowhere more than in a pumpkin patch. The decision is not taken lightly. Kids search through hundreds of pumpkins; oval and longish, squat and round, lopsided, smooth, deeply ridged, or warty.
It is fun to watch a kid scour the patch and then run over to mom with a big grin, “Look at my pumpkin!” (Wow, an orange one, that you can barely hold, what a surprise.) But they like to hear us compliment their choice. I always think of something. “That has a nice long stem” or “It’s so big and orange!”
Pumpkins seem to carry a mysticism that other produce doesn’t. Every girl committed to memory that magical moment when, in a swirl of fairy dust, an ordinary pumpkin turned into a grand coach to take Cinderella to the ball.
Although I knew the outcome every year, I remember feeling hopeful, yet melancholy as Linus stayed up all night in the pumpkin patch singing pumpkin carols and waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.
And of course, who could forget Peter, who kept his wife … well, enough said.
Pumpkins are a part of our fairy tales, nursey rhymes and holidays. While pumpkins are native to America, Jack-o-Lanterns have their roots in Ireland. As the old Irish legend goes, Stingy Jack was a trickster and a drunk who played pranks on everyone. On one occasion, Jack even tricked the Devil, who was stuck in a tree. Jack would help the Devil down only if he promised to never take his soul.
Upon Jack’s death, St. Peter rejected his entrance into Heaven and the devil, remembering his promise, denied Jack access into hell. Jack was condemned to roaming in the darkness between heaven and hell forever, so the Devil threw him an ember, which Jack put in a hollowed-out turnip, making a lantern.
Irish tradition on Hallows Eve included putting a carved out turnip or potato with a candle in it inside windows to ward of Jack’s spirit.
When a huge influx of Irish immigrants came to America in the 1800s they brought their Jack-o-Lantern tradition with them, but soon learned that a pumpkin is bigger and easier to carve than a turnip.
Pumpkins may be the best treat of all on Halloween. High in beta carotene, which helps with vision, full of potassium, for building muscles – they help us see better and run faster when we trick-or-treat. They are also a good source of calcium for our skeletons.
No matter how you slice it or dice it – or carve it – pumpkins are simply wonderful.
See you at the pumpkin patch!