Nothing Shouts ‘Fall Is Here’ Like Pumpkins


Fall is here and, with it, the pumpkins.

They’re not like other gourds — squash, for instance. You can buy squash year-round. But no one saunters into Publix in April and asks the produce guy where the pumpkins are kept — and, by the way, are they fresh?

Nope, pumpkins just sit in a field all year waiting for fall.

They get fatter and oranger and eventually start to appear at roadside stands in September. Then they slowly and methodically make their way into the grocery stores for October and November shoppers.

But even though the fall season demands pumpkin pie, I don’t know too many cooks who still make it from an honest-to-gosh pumpkin. Most people start with canned pumpkin or buy a pie ready-made from the bakery or, maybe if a 10 p.m. craving set in, they might pick one up from the frozen food department.

So pumpkin pie is generally not the reason people buy pumpkins.

It’s jack-o’-lanterns. Known as mere pumpkins until they are carved, jack-o’-lanterns are elevated to mythical proportions. They reign throughout October and totally dominate Halloween — at least as far as fruits and vegetables are concerned.

Initially, jack-o’-lanterns were carved from turnips and used to light the way for the earliest trick-or-treaters, but when the Irish brought the tradition to America, pumpkins were used. Here, pumpkins were more plentiful than turnips and, besides, we like to do things bigger, bigger, bigger!

Today, carving pumpkins has gotten quite competitive. Two eyes, a nose and a mouth no longer (pardon the pun) cut it. There are drilled pumpkins, painted pumpkins, stacked pumpkins and dyed pumpkins. There are jack-o’-lanterns oozing “blood,” jack-o’-lanterns sporting tattoos and jack-o’-lanterns with turnips for eyeballs (oh, the humiliation of the once-almighty turnip!).

Kids are already starting to plan their pumpkins, talking with playground cronies about their designs and changing their minds 20 times before lunch.

Many will end up settling for a plastic or foam rendition, but I like to think there are still budding pumpkin artistes out there — kids who scoop out the squishy, slimy guts with a spoon and are rewarded by being allowed to work with a knife, perhaps for the very first time.

And there’s another very important tradition to be observed when carving a jack-o’-lantern from a pumpkin. I hope you think about this because it’s not all fun and games at Halloween.

Before you clean or carve a pumpkin, the kitchen table absolutely must be covered with newspaper first. That’s simply how things are done. It’s been that way for hundreds of years. So I hope you people think about this when reading this newspaper. Without us newspaper people, who’d set the stage for your family’s annual carving event? Nobody!

Admit it. You need us. Especially in October.