Now that I’ve shown you our potato patch, let’s head off to the pumpkin patch. They’re just about to harvested and it’s an impressive sight to see them in the field now that the leaves and vines have withered away.
The name pumpkin, according to our Librarian, who quotes this source, is a fascinating thing in itself: ‘The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for ‘large melon’ which is ‘pepon.’ ‘Pepon’ was nasalized by the French into ‘pompon.’ The English changed ‘pompon’ to ‘Pumpion.’ Shakespeare referred to the ‘pumpion’ in his Merry Wives of Windsor. American colonists changed ‘pumpion’ into ‘pumpkin.’ The ‘pumpkin’ is referred to in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater” and Cinderella.’
Pumpkins are popular at Halloween when they are carved into Jack-o’-lanterns. The practice was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants who originally carved turnips into Jack-o’-lanterns. In America, pumpkins were more plentiful and cheaper than turnips, and so came about the switch from turnips to pumpkins. The carved Jack-o’-lanterns are to capture the souls of restless spirits who might do harm to mortals on All Hallows Eve when the veils between this world and the next are very thin.
We’ve grown pumpkins here for a century or so now. Mrs. Ware and her staff are, like most English, relatively speaking newcomers to using this gourd in cooking, but the English certainly embraced it enthusiastically. We Scots having given the Irish the idea of catching restless spirits in hollowed receptacles didn’t use pumpkins in cooking ’till recently either.
(And Halloween as well. Christopher Fowler, author of the Bryant & May mystery series, grumbles every year that Halloween has largely replaced Guy Fawkes Day in England. It’s likely we started this Halloween tradition here after the Second World War when American troops would’ve introduced it to us.)
Unlike potatoes, pumpkins are really easy to grow. Just find a patch of sunny ground with reasonably good drainage, plant seeds about eighteen inches apart, and fertilize with lots of well-aged cow or horse manure. Cheerfully ignore until harvest except for weeding as need be. Want bigger pumpkins? Trim off excess buds.
Pumpkins can be harvested whenever they are a deep, solid color (orange for most varieties) and the rind is hard. If vines remain healthy, we harvest in late September or early October, before heavy frosts which will damage them, but a late harvest like this year can happen when October has been frost-free. We cut pumpkins from the vines very carefully, using pruning shears leaving three or so inches of stem attached as snapping the stems from the vines results in many broken or missing handles, and can result in rot.
These pumpkins are being harvested today are going to Bjorn, our Brewmaster, who’s getting ready for another batch of Headless Jack Spiced Pumpkin Ale. So let’s fill these baskets up…