What is it about pump­kins?

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - Pam Bax­ter From the Ground Up

As I was eye­ing a heap of pump­kins at a gar­den cen­ter the other day, a thought came to me that pump­kins are the pup­pies of the plant world. Think about it: there’s some­thing about pump­kins that makes us happy when we look at them; and if we get up close to these squash it’s hard to not want to take one home with us.

Like dogs, there’s prob­a­bly even a pump­kin to suit ev­ery pref­er­ence, all the way from diminu­tive Jack-be-Lit­tles (Chi­huahuas and toy breeds) to 1,000-pounds-plus gi­ants (English mas­tiffs and New­found­lands).

It’s not just pump­kins’ bright, cheer­ful, orange that calls to us. I think it’s some­how wrapped up in the fall sea­son. I mean, if these fruits ripened in June or July, I have a hard time imag­in­ing that we’d be so taken with them. Per­haps they speak to some­thing sea­son­ally pri­mal in us. Those big, orange globes in the gar­den or on nurs­ery shelves tell us that the months of work­ing and striv­ing — plow­ing, sow­ing, weed­ing, wa­ter­ing, pick­ing, and pre­serv­ing — are over. Larders are stocked with food. Now, it’s time to re­lax and en­joy the fruits of our labors.

Pump­kins are also tied up in folk­lore, from the Ir­ish leg­end of the Jack-o-Lantern to “The Leg­end of Sleepy Hol­low,” by Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing, and of course to the spooky cel­e­bra­tion of Hal­loween it­self.

Pup­pies and folk­lore aside, there’s the prac­ti­cal as­pect of pump­kins, which is that pump­kin pie is even more Amer­i­can than ap­ple pie; squash be­ing na­tive to the Amer­i­cas, while ap­ples orig­i­nated in Asia. And it’s hard to imag­ine a Thanks­giv­ing cel­e­bra­tion with­out the iconic squash dessert.

Even though pump­kin prod­ucts are more sea­son­ally-spe­cific, they rep­re­sent a siz­able chunk of the agri­cul­tural mar­ket. Ac­cord­ing to the USDA Eco­nomic Re­search Ser­vice, over 90,000 acres of pump­kins were grown in the U.S. in 2014, pro­duc­ing 1.5 bil­lion pounds of pump­kins.

Illi­nois is the top pump­kin-pro­duc­ing state, “pro­duc­ing more than the other five lead­ing states com­bined, and about half of the na­tional to­tal.” (Penn­syl­va­nia ranks fifth among the top six pump­kin-pro­duc­ing states.) “The av­er­age pump­kin yield per acre among the top six states was 22, 083 pounds, and range from 14,500 to 37,500 pounds.”

What goes into a can of Libby’s pump­kin puree? The most com­mon va­ri­ety is “Dick­in­son” (Cu­cur­bita moschata spp.), a tan-col­ored, elon­gated pump­kin that can grow to about forty pounds. The flesh is orange, sweet, and makes for good eat­ing. In our area, the Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch Crook­neck is still fa--

vored for pies and other cook­ing. The flesh is “su­perb, be­ing deep orange and richly fla­vored.” It’s de­scribed as ex­cel­lent for pies, but­ters, and other desserts. (Baker Creek Heir­loom Seeds cat­a­logue)

While minia­ture pump­kins are adorable and make de­light­ful ta­ble cen­ter­pieces and dec­o­ra­tions, hu­mans seem to have a fas­ci­na­tion for Really Big Things and pump­kins lend them­selves well to the chal­lenge. The world record for the largest pump­kin was set in 2014 by Beni Meier, of Ger­many. The squash tipped (flat­tened?) the scales at 2323.7 pounds. I don’t know how you get some­thing that large to the weigh­ing site! And, to be hon­est, at that size a pump­kin has lost its puppy cute­ness, look­ing more like Jabba the Hutt from “Star Wars.”

If you’d like to see what a pump­kin that size looks like, go to http://www.gar­den­er­snet.com/veg­etable/gi­ant­pump­kins.htm. At that web­site you’ll also find tips on how to grow a gi­ant pump­kin. A search for “gi­ant pump­kin seeds” will bring up plenty of re­sults on seeds to get you started. Just make sure you have room for these big guys be­fore you put a seed in the ground and are pre­pared to give them ex­tra­or­di­nary care.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.