Return of the Great Pumpkin

Victoria Cubera

The mere mention of autumn brings to mind falling leaves, spiced apple cider and cozy nights in front of the fireplace. In this season of transition, school begins, trees change color and crops are harvested. And while traditional fall colors include rich browns, golden yellows and deep reds, it’s arguable that the most emblematic hue is orange-more specifically, pumpkin orange.

Pumpkins. From decorating schoolyard Old-Fashioned Days in September, to appearing in front yards across the nation towards the end of October for Halloween, to gracing tables in November at Thanksgiving, the pumpkin is a fall classic. Few other fruits (because the pumpkin is a fruit, not a vegetable) garner the kind of attention that these members of the gourd family get. Used in baking, cooking, home d?ecor and competitive sports, pumpkins are everywhere. Contests involving pumpkins are plentiful. While perhaps the most obvious competitions involve participants striving to grow the biggest pumpkins or carve the most elaborate designs, other contests exist in which teams compete to see who can build a machine (like a catapult, for example) that will launch pumpkins the greatest distance.

And then there’s pumpkin pie bake-offs celebrating the consummate Thanksgiving dessert. Who knew that a big orange squash could be so delicious? Far from being limited to just pie, pumpkin can be used as an ingredient in seasonal breads, muffins, cookies, stews, bisques, sauces, and garnishes. Specialty coffees bear names like “Pumpkin Spice”. Even pumpkin seeds, after being roasted and salted, are eaten. And even if the food product doesn’t include the famous squash, it might have a pumpkin’s shape (as is the case with seasonal sugar cookies in Wal-Marts across the country).

Probably the most common use for pumpkins during the fall is decorative, as they are used in fall displays alongside dried cornstalks and hay bales or carved into Jack-o-lanterns to light up the night on Halloween. Pumpkins come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, ranging from tiny yellow specimens that would fit in a child’s palm, to the traditional orange globes slightly bigger than a basketball, to colossal white gourds weighing in at over a thousand pounds.

Pumpkins are a perfect representation of autumn. As produce, they are gathered with the rest of the harvest, signifying the end of summer and the growing season. While not appearing in quite the number of colors seen on the mountains of upstate New York, the vibrant foliage is complemented by the myriad tones and types of pumpkins available to accent fall’s arrival. As weather grows colder, culinary preferences become warmer, and the pumpkin is present in the kitchen as a valuable seasonal supplement. And for those lucky enough to find fall romance, who hasn’t called their significant other some delightfully cloying pet name like “pumpkin”?

Autumn will end, fading into winter, and pumpkins will be thrown away to rot in compost heaps or vandalize houses down the block. Love them or hate them, but as long as summer keeps on turning into fall, count on one thing. Just like Linus told Charlie Brown, next year, the Great Pumpkin will return.