Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A TIME FOR PUMPKINS

Pumpkins for sale, Krogers
Fall on The Mountain, and the sky is heavy and gray; the yard littered with yellow tulip poplar  and white oak leaves. When we stand on the front porch and look through the small wood in front of our house, we can now see the lake—water that isn’t visible during the summer months. The woods are beginning to thin, and we’ve heard that deer culling at Sewanee will begin this week—wildlife, in general, will soon diminish (except for the ubiquitous cottontails that come out of hiding at night).

A bright note on this cloudy day: pumpkins have gone on sale at grocery stores and outdoor markets, and are even displayed in front of a few retail outlets. In middle Tennessee, pumpkins have been harvested already and are available for early Halloween Jack O’Lanterns. Right now, Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, Georgia, has become the scene of the annual Pumpkin Festival, an event that will last an entire month, September 25 – October 25, 2015.

This plump member of the squash family has been growing about four months and ‘though I’ve seen some huge specimens, I’m told that Utah has the corner on the marketing of giant pumpkins. Growers in this western state raise pumpkins that weigh in at six or seven hundred pounds, and one “plumpkin” topped 1,000 pounds. The Utah farmers aren’t so much interested in providing a good pumpkin pie (or hundreds of pumpkin pies) as they are in competing for the title of the grower of the largest pumpkin in the U.S.

Farmers have been planting pumpkin seeds in the U.S. for several centuries, but citizens didn’t use them as Jack O’ Lanterns for Halloween until the Irish migrated to America. Before the Irish came
Yard on Kennerly St., Sewanee,TN
into the U.S., people made Jack O’ Lanterns from turnips and potatoes, vegetables too small to make good window dressing like the snaggle-toothed pumpkins we see on Halloween. Although the Irish introduced the use of pumpkins as Jack O’Lanterns, farmers, worldwide, have been growing this vegetable for over 5,000 years.

When I see these plump, orange squash, I’m reminded of James Whitcomb Riley’s “When the frost is on the punkin/and the fodder’s in the shock,/and you hear the kyouck and gobble of the strutting turkey cock…O, it’s then’s the time a feller’s feeling at his best/with the rising sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest…” October is prime time for the life of a pumpkin; come the first frost, and they’re likely to perish as they’re hypersensitive to severe cold.
Pumpkins in the rain, Winchester, TN

So it’s time to go over to Starbuck’s and get a pumpkin-spiced latte. Or perhaps Julia, the chef at Julia’s of Sewanee, who is a culinary artist at cooking a variety of foods, will prepare a plate of battered and fried pumpkin leaves a la Kenya style, come Halloween.


However, a caveat: you have to be careful this time of the year as the witches will be out, and they’re noted for changing humans into pumpkins. Just a wave of the wand on All Hallows Eve, and you could become the ingredient in a Thanksgiving pie.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan on a rainy Tuesday on The Mountain and in The Valley



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