By Kristi Kates
Are you getting ready to pick out this years Halloween pumpkin?
Perhaps you can make that experience a little more interesting than
your basic stop at the grocery store.
First things first: pumpkins arent a vegetable - theyre actually a
fruit. As a matter of fact, their name originates from the word pepon,
which translates from the Greek word large melon. The word pepon
then moved through cultural shifts in language, into the French
pompon, the British pumpion, and the word we know today, the American
pumpkin. And theyve been around since around 5500 BC - although they
werent carved into Jack OLanterns until the early to mid 1800s.
The typical size ranges from a pumpkin so tiny that you could tuck it
into your jacket pocket, to pumpkins that tip the scale in the
hundreds of pounds. Most of the pumpkin itself is edible, and is often
a staple of North American autumn menus.
Theyve made plenty of appearances in popular culture, too - some of
the most familiar being Cinderellas carriage, the Pumpkin Juice
beverage from the Harry Potter movies, the pumpkin atop the torso of
the headless horseman in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and of course
the cartoon Peanuts yearly visit from The Great Pumpkin.
But here in Northern Michigan, its mostly about the pumpkin as that
perfect Halloween accessory. Grown at farms across the region, picking
the perfect pumpkin is a yearly custom that most of us look forward
to; never mind that Jack OLanterns actually started with people
carving designs into hollowed-out... turnips.
PUMPKINS TO GO
Steve Fouch, one of the owners of Jacobs Corn Maze in Traverse City,
keeps things almost as simple as those good old days with Jacobs
We grow a variety of pumpkin called Hannibal, he says. These are
pumpkins that grow in the 20-25 pound range, pretty consistently. They
are appealing pumpkins, because theyre just the right size of pumpkin
that people enjoy for decorating and carving.
While a quick Internet search reveals at least 30 different varieties
of pumpkins, Jacobs only grows the singular Hannibal variety for
their Halloween customers (thats the only one we grow - its a very
solid pumpkin, Fouch says) - and theyve done all the picking for
you, too, further simplifying the 2010 pumpkin-buying process.
All of our pumpkins are out of the field already. Theyve been
pre-picked, Fouch explains, we picked them now to avoid frost, and
theyre waiting on our farm carts here for people to choose and
purchase them over the next couple of weekends.
Around a thousand of them, to be more precise - thats the amount of
pumpkins that Jacobs estimates they sell every Halloween.
BOOS AND BIGGIES
By contrast, Pond Hill Farm in Harbor Springs offers a more artistic
approach to your Halloween pumpkin-choosing. Jimmy Spencer, who
co-owns Pond Hill Farm along with his family and who oversees the
pumpkin-growing each year, explains that he thinks people sometimes
get a little hung up on the traditional orange pumpkin, which can
keep them from seeing the bigger picture of pumpkin options.
We grow around a dozen different kinds of pumpkins, Spencer says,
starting with the miniature pumpkins - the Baby Boo and Baby Bear
varieties. We grow pie pumpkins, Giant Pumpkins, and, of course, the
usual Jack OLantern pumpkins - this year, as far as varieties, weve
got Gold Medal, Gold Rush, Wolf, and the Howden Biggie.
While Spencer certainly doesnt discourage people from purchasing the
orange pumpkins that are thought of as the gold - uh, sorry, orange -
standard for Halloween decor, he suggests that they perhaps try one of
Pond Hills more unusual pumpkin varieties, which can both add color
to your Halloween display - and food to your table.
COLOR YOUR HALLOWEEN
There are a lot of really neat pumpkins, Spencer says. Our
specialty pumpkins include White, Blue, Green, and something called a
Cinderella pumpkin, which is more flat than a typical pumpkin and
ranges from a very bright orange to pink. The Cinderella - its
botanical name is Rogue deVampes- is probably my favorite pumpkin, I
believe its a French Pumpkin and is quite beautiful with its
Spencer also explains that all of the specialty pumpkins are extremely
good for eating as well as holiday carving.
You can make them into good soups or pies, and you can also roast
them, like a winter squash, he says.
His favorite Pond Hill pumpkin activity, however, doesnt include
ovens or carving knives; but does involve a whole lot of gardening
expertise and care.
I like to grow Giant Pumpkins, he chuckles, our biggest this year
was 500 pounds. Last years was 300 pounds. So were learning as we go
- and hoping for a 1,000 pound pumpkin next year.
Now that would make one of the biggest Halloween Jack OLanterns of all.
Jacobs Corn Maze is located at 7100 E. Traverse Hwy/M-72 West in
Traverse City, telephone 231-632-MAZE, and is offering the T-Rex Corn
Maze this year along with their pumpkins. Pond Hill Farm is located at
5581 S. Lake Shore Drive in Harbor Springs, telephone 231-526-FARM,
and offers U-Pick Pumpkins daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. along with
Hayrides and their Garden Cafe.