To begin with, apparently there was some kind of pumpkin blight this year, resulting in a pumpkin shortage. Earlier this month I noticed that my local grocery stores weren’t as overjoyed with pumpkins as they usually are; normally there will be huge boxes full of them crowding the produce section this time of year. Yesterday my local Safeway boasted three enormous pumpkins (each with a $49.95 price tag – who pays fifty bucks for a pumpkin, for cryin’ out loud?) but the choice of smaller pumpkins wasn’t so great.
Today I started my search at Cox Farms on Route 123, which had pumpkins a-plenty at 59 cents a pound. I was looking for pumpkins in the ten to fifteen pound range, and I don’t like to pay more than five bucks for a pumpkin I’m just going to cut up, so the price put me off right away. In addition, there were just too many pumpkins, and a lot of them were misshapen and had big, hard ridges (difficult to carve). They had white pumpkins which were marked with a sign that said “Elegant!” I didn’t want any elegant pumpkins – I was looking for pumpkins with personality. I confess to fondling a gooseneck squash or two, just because their shapes were pretty, but I was on a Jack O’Lantern hunt, so I got back in the car and headed into Vienna.
Stalcup Hardware had very handsome pumpkins for 49 cents a pound, but most of them were bigger than I wanted. They were ranged up and down the crowded aisles, along with various squashes and watermelons (watermelons?). For some reason the store smelled odd (it might have been because a box of very small pumpkins had some moldy ones) and again, I just didn’t see what I wanted.
The big Giant in Vienna had a very poor selection at $4.99 apiece; most of them looked like they’d been handled roughly and were minus their stalks. I value a good stalk on a pumpkin and won’t buy stalkless ones because the poor pumpkins look like they’ve been snatched bald-headed. I hate to see people pick up pumpkins by the stalk – I just know the stalk is going to snap off and there’ll be smashed pumpkin all over the floor.
At a smaller Safeway in Vienna I found medium sized pumpkins at $3.99 apiece and large ones for $5.99. This seemed to me a fair price. They had one big box full of the medium ones; some had begun to go moldy but at least this selection had good stalks. I picked out two – one tall with a really long, startled-looking stalk and one squat and round, with a curly stalk like a forelock. I also found a really nice large one tucked beneath the apple bin; its stalk has a classic chopped shape and actually looks fairly fresh – a plus. The largest pumpkin is a twelve-pounder, the tall one weighs in at nine pounds and the squat one at seven. When John came home for lunch he wanted to know if I got the best buy; I suppose the Stalcup pumpkins might have been the best buy, but I didn’t weigh any of them and they were all too large, anyhow.
The three pumpkins are ensconced in the guest room for the next week. It’s the coolest room in the house. I balk at putting my pumpkins outside until Hallowe’en; the local squirrel and chipmunk population will nibble on them, and once they’re cut it’s like open season – everyone wants a bite. So I’ll probably wait until the 30th to cut them (I have the day off rehearsal, anyway). These are my Jack O’Lanterns from a couple years back. I don’t use stencils or pre-made patterns or anything like that – sometimes I’ll draw the design on with a marker but more often than not I just start cutting freehand, using a design that suggests itself by the shape of the pumpkin. It’s strictly faces with me, too – I’m not about to carve a cat or a witch or the word “BOO” into it. If I’m going to spend so much time picking out pumpkins with personality, I try hard to use that personality when I convert the pumpkins into Jacks.