Pumpkinized

We’re now squarely in the midst of the Pumpkin Season. There are pumpkins on doorsteps. Pumpkin lattes at your local coffee house. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin muffins with icing at the bakery, and pumpkin ice cream on the menus at restaurants. And, as of yesterday, even “pumpkin spice” coffee creamer at the fifth-floor coffee station at our firm.

There’s no doubt that the humble pumpkin has made huge inroads into every nook and cranny of our current foodie culture.  But the sad reality is, it’s not really pumpkin that people are craving.  In fact, the fleshy part of the pumpkin — the part that remains after you scrape out the seeds and the yucky, slimy innards — has virtually no taste.  Any good pumpkin pie recipe will have you bake the scraped-out pumpkin, them remove the flesh from the pumpkin skin and puree it, and then add the flavoring that we really associate with a good piece of pumpkin pie.  In effect, the pumpkin just provides the ballast for the pie, whereas the delectable taste comes from the added spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and often allspice.

That’s the true fate of the humble pumpkin.  It’s on every menu, sure, but in reality it’s become a kind of food Trojan Horse that serves as a cover for consumption of yet more sugars and spices.

Of course, that doesn’t make it any less mandatory to have a slice of pumpkin pie come Thanksgiving.

Laying A Pumpkin

The Ohio State Buckeyes went to West Lafayette, Indiana last night hoping to play a football game. They laid a colossal pumpkin instead. And not just any pumpkin — an evil, grinning, death’s head pumpkin that was grimly reminiscent of last year’s debacle in Iowa City.

This year’s team has had serious issues on both sides of the ball, and hats off to the Purdue Boilermakers for ruthlessly exposing all of them. Now maybe the Buckeyes will stop thinking about their recruiting ratings and start focusing on becoming a football team that plays defense, runs the ball, and actually blocks and tackles. Otherwise, we members of Buckeye Nation are going to have to deal with more muerte pumpkins in our immediate future.

Mums And Pumpkins

IMG_3024Last Sunday Kish and I went out to the Lynd Fruit Farm Market in Pataskala to buy some farm-fresh produce, sausage, and cheeses.  When we arrived, we were greeted by two sure signs that fall is upon us here in the Midwest:  a flatbed of colorful mums, and a flatbed of beautiful pumpkins.

September is one of my favorite months of the year, in part because it’s such a colorful month, with the leaves turning, mum blossoms displaying their bright hues, and orange pumpkins appearing on doorsteps.  As if on cue, the weather has taken a distinctly fall-like turn, too.  Today our high was in the 60s, and the low tonight is supposed to get down near 50.  Sweater weather!

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Pumpkins On The Porch

When family members come to our house on Thursday for Thanksgiving dinner, they will be greeted by pumpkins on our front step.  We try to keep pumpkins by the front door from Halloween through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

I like having pumpkins around, and not just because they scream “autumn.”  I like the shape and color of them, their plumpness and grooves and bumps and shiny brightness.  When I pull into the driveway after work and the headlights reveal the pumpkins, in all their orange rotundity, I can’t help but smile.

Pumpkin Fail At Webner House

I smelled the reek of failure all day today.  Because the weather has been so foul, we utterly failed to carve our pumpkins into jack o’ lanterns and then convert the front entrance to our home into the traditional Webner House Beggars’ Night pumpkin walk.

When I walked out of our downtown Columbus offices today for lunch meeting, however, my spirits were lifted when I saw a pickup truck filled with pumpkins parked in the lot next door.  At least the driver of that truck, I thought, is properly keeping the pumpkin spirit alive — even if we at Webner House have failed abysmally.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Webner House Pumpkin Path, Halloween 2011

We had our traditional Halloween Jack ‘o Lantern entryway this year.  It features 10 carved pumpkins, including tributes to Braxton Miller and Jared Sullinger and attempts to carve scary, silly, goofy, and happy pumpkin faces.  It think it’s a pretty good crop.

Thanks to our neighbors, the Taylors, for their excellent help with the pumpkin carving this year!

Pumpkin-Carving Day

Tomorrow is Beggars’ Night, so today was our pumpkin-carving day.  This year, we had 10 pumpkins to be gutted, carved, and made ready to be implanted with candles and placed on our walkway to light the way for trick-or-treaters.

I love carving pumpkins.  I like doing the emptying and carving the day before, so that the pumpkins can dry out before the big evening.  I love getting ready for it, and laying out the carving implements like a scrub nurse placing the surgical instruments on trays in preparation for an operation.

Pumpkin-carving is an occasion that demands proper tools.  Our implements include a plastic ice cream scoop, knives, shallow spoons, and two excellent pumpkin carving tools that are blunt but with serrated blades — perfect for puncturing the tough orange skin of the pumpkin and then slicing, safely, through the pumpkin flesh.

I especially like the tactile sensation of pumpkin carving.  It seems basic and ancient, somehow, like skinning a rabbit, whittling a stick, churning butter, or performing another chore that would be done on the frontier.

You cut carefully around the stem, slicing horizontally to avoid the possibility of the pumpkin lid falling into the interior.  You feel the resistance yield and hear a satisfying tearing sound as you slowly pull the top, heretofore bound like Gulliver by the tiny threads of pumpkin innards, free from the rest of the pumpkin.  You look inside, and see the slimy strings and goop and seeds and smell that heady, rich pumpkin smell.  You know that your hands will be smeared orange and covered with flecks of pumpkin, because emptying the gut is something that requires you to use your hands, grip the spaghetti-like strands, and yank them out.

Our plastic ice cream scoop is exceptionally well-suited to scraping the insides of pumpkins until they are free of the wet threads and seeds.  (This year, we contributed the seeds to our neighbor, who will bake and salt them and use them for snacks.)  I like to scour the inside walls thoroughly, so that the interiors of the hollowed-out pumpkins are as smooth as a baby’s behind.  That allows the pumpkins to dry overnight and makes them better suited for candle placement and candle lighting and burning.  And if your interior pumpkin walls are thinned by vigorous scraping,  the candlelight will give your pumpkin a cool-looking, eerie inner glow on Beggars’ Night.

After the preparation comes carving time — when all creativity can be loosed, and the pumpkin can become a temporary, soon-to-be-discarded testament to your artistic sensibilities.  I’ll share some pictures of our jack-o-lanterns, and our pumpkin walkway, when they are lit and on display tomorrow night.

 

 

Celebrating All Things Pumpkin

It’s time for the annual Circleville Pumpkin Show.  That means it’s time for pumpkin lovers everywhere to don their bright orange garb, gather in the shadow of the pumpkin colored water tower, dance the pumpkin jig around the pumpkin Christmas tree, eat every imaginable pumpkin-based food, and pay homage to people who somehow can grow gargantuan pumpkins that ultimately can tip the scales at more than 1,000 pounds.

If you’ve never been to the Circleville Pumpkin Show, this year would be a good place to start.  It’s a classic bit of Americana, found just down the road from Columbus.  This year’s celebration of pumpkinalia runs through Saturday, October 22.

Halloween Art

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The 2009 pumpkin walk

I like carving pumpkins.  Hey, I even like hollowing out pumpkins, using a big spoon to scoop out the gunk and seeds and stringy wet orange threads, and then scraping the insides until they are dry and white.  When you prepare a pumpkin correctly and scrape it out thoroughly, the resulting carved jack ‘o lantern will glow with a very satisfying inner light when a candle is placed inside and lit.-4

This year we did our carving Wednesday night, with the help of our neighbors, Dave and Amy Taylor and their daughters, Grace and Jane — as well as a host of other neighborhood kids.  -8We have some good carving implements that are serrated but not sharp.  They are perfect for kids to use in carving the soft tissue of a ripe pumpkin.

All of the kids got to carve a pumpkin or two and let their creative juices flow, and even Dave and Amy got into the act.  I carved two jack ‘o lanterns myself.  Why not?  How often do any of us get to do something even mildly artistic?-3

-5This year Kish got an interesting selection of pumpkins — some were your standard pumpkins, but there were a number that were almost like gourds, with thick skins and warty, pebbled surfaces that were not easy to carve.  Still, they spurred your imagination, as you thought about how to incorporate the warts and raised surfaces into your finished product.

-2After we were done, I set the pumpkins out to dry.  The next night was trick or treat night in New Albany, and we filled the jack ‘o lanterns with votive candles, lit them, and placed them by our door, on our stoop, and along the pathway to our door.  We ended up with a pretty impressive pumpkin walk that garnered a few compliments from our visitors.