Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 26, 2018

All things pumpkin

I love the bright orange pumpkins that pop up in local farm fields and markets at this time of year. There’s something so appealing about the big colorful orbs and their green, white, yellow, speckled, wart-ridden and odd-shaped cousins. Ever since daughters Mariya and Katie were little, we would go together to buy a bunch of them to decorate the inside and outside of our homes.

This year, I had the chance to enjoy pumpkins in northern Wisconsin, where husband Art and I have a cottage. A highlight was the 26th annual Pumpkin Fest in Three Lakes. He had gone with me to the Cranberry Fest the week before and was pretty certain he’d see many of the same things. So he opted to stay in our cozy cottage while I ventured out into the brisk air.

While Cranberry Fest visitors had to slog between rain-soaked rows of tents to check out items, most of the Pumpkin Fest artists and food booths were inside the high school building, making it much more enjoyable for both crafters and customers.

The pottery, quilts, tea towels, jewelry, holiday decorations and paintings were nice, but I was especially interested in watching some of the artists at work. A spinner was busy making an “infinity” scarf, while a quilter stitched a small quilted holiday design. Yet another explained the paintings his wife made on the birch-bark, leaf and feather items in his booth. He said the feathers came from the chickens, geese and peacocks they raise on their farm.

While several things caught my eye, I largely fended off the temptation to buy them. I’m downsizing and don’t need any more stuff. But in the end, I did buy two small orange pumpkins - one fashioned from chenille and another that was a jack-o-lantern painted on a small gourd. They don’t take up much room - and they make me smile.

The lunchroom was decorated with bright paintings of pumpkins done by local school children. Volunteers for the event, all dressed in brilliant-orange T-shirts, welcomed everyone with smiles.

I’ve never had pumpkin bisque, but I decided to try it. It was pretty tasty, but rich enough that I couldn’t eat it all. Pumpkin pie and other pies lined one table while cinnamon rolls filled several others nearby.

As I was leaving, a volunteer convinced me to buy a Pumpkin Fest T-shirt, saying all proceeds from the event would help the local fire department. Of course, I had to buy a Pumpkin Fest bag to put the shirt in. One last purchase was a bag of peanut brittle for Art.

Back at our cottage, I realized I hadn’t had my fill of pumpkins yet, so I did an internet search on them.

According to a 2014 article from PBS’s “The History Kitchen”, archaeologists discovered the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds in the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico. Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America more than 7,500 years ago, and they were among the first crops grown for human consumption in North America.

A University of Illinois Extension Service site said the word “pumpkin” originated from the Greek word for "large melon" which is "pepon." That was "nasalized" by the French into "pompon" and the English changed it to "pumpion." Shakespeare referred to the "pumpion" in his "Merry Wives of Windsor." American colonists made the final change, leaving us with the pumpkin referred to in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater" and "Cinderella."

The extension service also said Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats, and roasted strips of pumpkin on an open fire and ate them. The beginning of pumpkin pie occurred when colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, filled the inside with milk, spices and honey, and baked it in hot ashes.

Many sources say the jack-o-lantern was given to us by the Irish. The name refers to the lights sometimes seen in the bogs, although in Ireland, it was the turnip that Paddy and Bridget carved. The fruit needed to make the big orange jack-o-lanterns was waiting in America.

An online August 2018 “Good Housekeeping” article said:

* Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica.
* More than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin are produced each year in the United States.
* Each pumpkin has about 500 seeds.
* All parts of a pumpkin - skin, leaves, flowers, flesh, seeds - are edible, although most sources say “no” to the stems.
* There are more than 45 different varieties of pumpkin and they have names like Hooligan, Cotton Candy and Orange Smoothie.
* They are a winter squash in the family Cucurbitaceae, which also includes cucumbers and melons.
* Pumpkin-flavored sales totaled more than $414 million in 2017.

Wow! That’s a lot of money spent on pumpkin-flavored food. I discovered that, if I wanted, I could buy the following items with pumpkin spice flavoring: Cheerios and Life cereals, Oreos, bagels, JELL-O, ice cream, butter spread, cream cheese and pretzels. If I had a dog, I could get pumpkin spice treats for him!

My personal desire for pumpkin flavor or aroma is mixed. I love pumpkin pie and the tasty pumpkin bread sister-in-law Linda brings to our Thanksgiving dinners. Roasted pumpkin seeds are good, too. But the pumpkin-spice lattes offered at the fest? Not so much. Art occasionally indulges in a pumpkin-spice shake, but I’ll pass on that as well.

My visit to Pumpkin Fest and my follow-up internet search satisfied much of my annual need for all things pumpkin. But a glance at the calendar reveals Halloween is only five days away and Thanksgiving will soon follow. That means the future still looks pretty orange!

Top-left: there was no shortage of the large orange fruit at the 2018 "Pumpkin Fest" in Three Lakes, Wisconsin; top-right: two Pumpkin Fest customers check out some stitched items while one of the vendors continues to sew; bottom-left: while pumpkins are now an integral part of Halloween, black cats are as well, such as this one caught in a 2017 fall photo; bottom-right: while we were there to buy pumpkins in 2017, the cat was more of an attraction to, l-r, daughter Katie, daughter Mariya and Mariya's then-fiancée Miriam.

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