Carving out a Tradition

Our pumpkins

I’ve never been very good at carving pumpkins. In fact, I think you could say I couldn’t carve the broad side of a pumpkin with a sharp knife if my life depended on it. Mind you, with little to no experience over the years, who is to blame, really? Our home was not a big Halloween home when I was growing up, so it stands to reason.

This year, we carved three pumpkins so that we would have some decorations to put out for trick or treaters. I actually understood, for the first time, the significance of the yearly ritual of carving a pumpkin.

We used templates off the Internet for the faces, which I am sure to some people is cheating, and we waited until all the pumpkins went on sale on the 30th to make our choices. They were really ripe, and the selection wasn’t so good, but we didn’t have to spend $15 on pumpkins. We spent $7.50 for three.

I bought fake cobwebs for twenty-five cents in the bargain bin, and voila! Front walk decorated. They even had fake spiders in with the webby-film stuff.

I discovered, while prepping the pumpkins for my husband’s arrival home from work, that there is something exciting when you cut the hexagon lid in the top of the pumpkin, around the stem. As you lift it out, it is like opening a present, the insides seen for the first time ever. Not to be melodramatic, but its much like the explorers upon discovering a new lake, or a new piece of land. Uncharted territory! Only this time, it is in a pumpkin! And it is all yours!

Ok, so I am being melodramatic. It’s just a pumpkin. But it was neat to see all the seeds, the intricate criss-cross of webbing holding them all in, and scraping it all out onto newspaper to sort. (which is not as easy as one might think, and very messy!)

I made caramel pumpkin seed crunch with the huge bowl of seeds we ended up with. Yummy and fibre-full!

Decorating for Halloween got me thinking about the symbolism of the pumpkin with Fall, Halloween, and our culture. When I was a kid, the Fall Fairs all had giant pumpkin contests, and there was always the picture of the proverbial child astride this monstrosity of an orange gourd, their wee legs sticking out either side. What does one do with a pumpkin that big, other than enter it in contests? Surely the thing would be too tough or watery to make use of for pies and pastries.

And that brought my thoughts into the Fair hall with the rows of pumpkin pie, waiting for the judges to taste them all, and make a decision on who wins this year. You know who the women are who entered the pies, they are standing out of sight while the judges go through, peering up and over the crowd, biting their lips, hoping they got the right mix of nutmeg and cinnamon to win. I wonder how many used canned pumpkin, instead of cutting up a real one, boiling it, mashing it, and blending the cream and spices themselves? They would never tell. A dirty little secret, I would think.

Yummy no matter what.

I can smell the fresh Fall air now as I picture it in my mind, and smile. Pumpkin pie is not my favorite, really, but it is very good with fresh whipped cream, or Vanilla ice cream. A Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie is indeed strange. Pumpkin orange peeking out from scattered Fall leaves is, and always will be, an important part of Fall identity. At least to me. The smooth, corrugated outside cool to the touch as you run your hands over it, wiping off the dirt, turning it every day to prevent the flat spot from forming. Watching it go from mottled green to bright orange to deep orange and then… excitedly cutting into it to take out all the “meat” to cook and bake and eat!

Last year we grew organic sugar pumpkins and they made amazing pie. My husband, for the first time, got a real appreciation for the vegetable, and understood why pie is better from fresh. Our own fresh!

But… Back to my original thought.

Moreso than just a Fall icon, though, is the Jack O’ Lantern, which over half of the pumpkins in this area get sold for, so I am told. Over half! That is a lot of pumpkins going into the trash on November 1st, isn’t it? I hope lots of households put them into yard waste pickup for composting, or do so themselves. Pumpkin vines and leftover pulp make great compost, and if you miss a seed or two in the pulp, you get more next year growing in your compost!

I remember, as a child, always seeing the symbolism of the Jack O’ Lantern with Halloween as this silly waste of a perfectly good pumpkin. Perhaps it was because of my own inadequacies with the visual art medium, my family tendency to economical gardening, or simply because, growing up as I did, pumpkins were food, not decoration.

I never understood the excitement of carving a pumpkin, or the idea behind the scary face on the front until now. It just didn’t interest me. Oh, they always looked interesting enough, the toothy evil grins and triangle eyes somehow comic in their depiction, and some were really well done. Works of art, in fact.

This year though, I wanted to carve a pumpkin. Maybe it is because we are in our home now, or maybe it is because we are a family now. Whatever the reason, it suddenly became a new tradition I wanted to start, one that I know will be even more important when I have little fingers wanting to scoop out their own pumpkin, and pick the scary face for the front. One that will take on more meaning as we grow and take part in parties with our children, dole out candy, and perhaps even dress up ourselves.

So this year, we carved our pumpkins on the kitchen table, our son in his playpen oblivious to the activity, and I realized that, as I dug the paring knife into the smooth outside of the hollowed out pumpkin, I was carving out more than just a Jack O’ Lantern.

I was carving out a new tradition.

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