It's been a busy decade for the New Hampshire pumpkin. First the Keene Pumpkin Festival kicked itself into high gear, turning a local harvest festival into an international event that grabbed a 2003 Guinness World Record for the most lit pumpkins in one spot (28,952!). Then in 2006 it lost that record to Boston (Boo!). But that same year it was named our official state fruit (Yay!). And now, in the fall of 2010, rumor has it the Keene festival will not take place next year due to money woes. (Aww...)On a more personal level, I've had a peculiar passion for pumpkins ever since an October nine or 10 years ago. I was on a walk through the neighborhood enjoying the foliage and I noticed a man working in his leafy pumpkin patch in a vacant lot. I remarked upon what a lovely scene he had created and he reached down, plucked a soccer-ball-sized orange orb with a hard green and black stem and presented it to me. I was genuinely tickled and I carried it home like a prize.Funny how little acts of kindness like that stick with you.I determined at that moment to plant pumpkins in my own garden so that someday I could reenact that gesture of spontaneous generosity, but I soon learned that pumpkins are actually a bit of a problem in a garden. They tend to sprawl all over everything toward the end of the season, burying your carrots and hedging around your dwindling tomatoes. If you grow them out on the lawn they lure the woodchucks, and if you want to see a real horror show, gaze upon a pumpkin patch ransacked and gutted by a ravenous woodchuck. Anyway, even when I grow a successful crop, my yard isn't as conducive to impromptu walk-by giveaways. I guess it's the thought that counts.This year my daughter got into the pumpkin-growing act and something remarkable happened. I don't know if it's the new soil we turned over for her raised bed gardens or just her green thumb, but our yard now has one enormous pumpkin squatting in the middle of it, looking a bit like a pale yellow Jabba the Hut.I'm not sure what we'll do with it. I know that the hot summer forced the pumpkin season to an early close this year for farmers, and since Jabba is still growing strong here in early September (as I write this) there's a chance we'll be the only family on the block with a fresh pumpkin on the stoop - assuming we can still fit it on the stoop in another few weeks. One suggestion someone made was that we fix it up with an outboard motor and enter it in the Goffstown Pumpkin Regatta, but a Union Leader story I found online (that I would quote to you if it wasn't more than 30 days old and therefore would cost me $2.50 to read) seems to imply that the Regatta may sink this year for lack of seaworthy gourds.So an exciting decade for pumpkins seems to be grinding to an ignominious and unspectacular conclusion.Maybe I should just put Jabba in an old wagon out by the street, wait for the first deserving-looking youngster who walks by and say, "Hey, kid. Happy Halloween!" - then let him cart it away.
This article appears in the October 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine