by Ray Linville | Photography by Diana Matthews
The most important task for some of us this season is finding the right pumpkin for Halloween… Carving a jack-o’-lantern, making a pie, decorating a front porch, roasting seeds, getting ready for trick-or-treating and creating family memories all start with that important first step: finding the right pumpkin.
Did you grow up watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?” This popular show kept us glued to a TV set just before Halloween in an era when cable channels didn’t exist and video games had yet to mesmerize the young. A simple tale about the Peanuts gang preparing for Halloween, it gave us our own virtual, quick trip to a pumpkin patch.
At that time, I didn’t think trips to pumpkin patches could be real. It was all make-believe. Now, of course, it is real and the way local farmers entice families to visit—take a hayride to a pumpkin patch and pick out your own pumpkin.
I had never set foot in a pumpkin patch until I was invited to go with my grandchildren on a Halloween outing. The pumpkin patches in our area today are much better than the animated scenes of Charlie Brown—enjoy a hayride, navigate a corn maze, watch apple cider being made, jump in a corn crib, and take home a pumpkin or two (actually, we never take home fewer than four).
That we have such great pumpkins locally is not a surprise. For centuries before European settlement, Native Americans in this area grew pumpkins, which were an important part of their diet. Archaeologists have found pumpkin seeds in long-dormant cooking pits in N.C. and pumpkin fragments dating more than 8,000 years ago have been found elsewhere in this hemisphere. In fact, pumpkins grew only in the Americas before they were taken to other continents after Christopher Columbus’ voyages.
Imagine the reaction of early Native Americans to the excitement generated at our pumpkin patches—and the disappointment of poor Linus in the Peanuts saga, waiting in the patch every year for the Great Pumpkin to arrive and continually being disappointed when all along the right one was just before his eyes.
For John Greenleaf Whittier, pumpkin is the “fruit loved” of childhood. His poem “The Pumpkin,” written in 1850, describes the youthful joy of pumpkin carving:
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
Pumpkins have much more value than for making spiced lattes, folks. They’re great for creating charm and family fun.
If you want to find the perfect pumpkin, don’t take a quick trip to a grocery store. Instead, take a child to a nearby farm and let him or her walk through the patch to find just the right one. Then teach a lesson about regional history and culture.
Linville is a contributing writer for the N.C. Folklife Institute and writes about Southern food, history and culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org