The other day the family went to the pumpkin farm to pick our own pumpkins for Halloween. As the sun went down over the farm fields, we took a hayride to the pumpkin patch, where my son picked a perfectly shaped little pumpkin while I picked a larger, somewhat deformed pumpkin.
Pumpkins…iconic of October, the fall and cooler temperatures (mid-80’s in Tucson), and the best holidays of the year around the corner. Pumpkins never played a huge role in my fall festivities; in fact, I had never been to a pumpkin patch before having kids. I only remember carving one pumpkin in my youth. I didn’t enjoy “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” as much as the Christmas special. And I thought it strange when my friend Melissa, who was obsessed with pumpkins (her favorite holiday is Halloween and favorite color is orange), would send me a card every year in our 20s with a picture of a pumpkin patch, or of her holding a pumpkin, or a jack o’ lantern.
It wasn’t until I was in the Peace Corps that I began to appreciate pumpkins (when I started appreciate a lot of things) – specifically orange pumpkins. During my second year, I organized my site’s annual Halloween party. I really wanted to bring the Halloween spirit to my students since they don’t celebrate Halloween in Kazakhstan. I even went so far as asking my friends in the U.S. to send me Halloween care packages (shout out to those friends and my sister who spent the money to send a package to Kazakhstan. I still remember who you are!). I went to the market to look for orange pumpkins and whatever else we could find that resembled the fall, Halloween, or something scary (aside from the sheep’s heads) to decorate for the party.
When I arrived at the “squash” section of the market, however, all I saw were green and white pumpkins. As I scoured stand after stand for the elusive orange pumpkin, I found one green pumpkin with a few orange markings on it. I immediately snatched it up, and my local friend who was shopping with me asked the vendor if he had any other orange-y pumpkins. Magically, the guy at the stand next to him pulled out an orange pumpkin from under his table. As we looked around the squash section, more and more vendors were pulling orange pumpkins from under their tables and trying to get our attention so we would buy from them (we ended up buying ALL the orange pumpkins). Apparently Kazakhstanis preferred their squash green or white, and the orange pumpkins were considered freakish, which was why they were stashed under the table, hidden from the shoppers’ view. I guess they would compare to the heirloom tomatoes, purple carrots, or golden raspberries that you can find here in the U.S. but are not nearly as popular as the traditional variety.
I enjoy pumpkin season now, not only for the joy it brings to my kids, but because you can find an assortment of delicious pumpkin-flavored treats (of course it involves food and drink). Every October in the U.S., you can find several establishments selling a variety of pumpkin baked goods, from pumpkin pie to pumpkin bread to pumpkin cream-cheese muffins, as well as pumpkin-flavored beverages. Is there any vegetable as versatile in its flavor as the pumpkin?! You can even buy canned pumpkin so you can bake your own pumpkin desserts. I can’t tell you how awesomely convenient canned pumpkin is. All the pumpkin goodness without the messy work. When I lived abroad, there was no such thing as canned pumpkin. I bought pumpkins at the market, lugged them home (not only were they heavy, they were awkward to carry), almost landed in the ER cutting them open with dull knives, seeded them, cooked them, and then used the flesh to make pumpkin muffins in Kazakhstan and pumpkin pie in Thailand. Perhaps it was the effort I put into making them or the novelty of baked pumpkin goods in these countries, but they were damn good! Better than any of the premade pumpkin desserts I’ve tasted here.
I also appreciate the orange pumpkin now because it is one of the few vegetables my kids will eat. Pumpkins are very nutritious – packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Not only will my kids will eat pumpkin desserts, they will also eat other pumpkin-y foods as well, including pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin ravioli, and pumpkin empanadas. As for me, there’s nothing better than a pumpkin spice latte or a pumpkin ale.
Whether it’s the picking, carving, decorating, smashing, the seeds, the pie, the baked goods, the coffee, or the beer, enjoy it while you can!
Happy Halloween and Happy (Orange) Pumpkin Season!