October 27, 2005
Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater
by BOB DORAN
The huge bins in front of grocery stores that were stacked high with pumpkins in early October are starting to empty as Halloween approaches. If you shop at one of the "natural" food stores, the Co-op, Wildberries, Eureka Natural Foods or even Murphy's or Ray's, there's a good chance the bin was full of squashes from Warren Creek Farms. And if your kid came home from school with a pumpkin recently, it's probably from the same place.
"Am I sick of pumpkins about now?" asks Carla Giuntoli, who runs Warren Creek Farms with her husband, Paul. "I've seen a lot of them in the last few weeks." While she can't say how many pumpkins they've grown, she figures the farm has around six acres in pumpkin production, in a wide range of varieties.
When I called Monday she was feeling "maxed out" after a couple of weeks of daily school tours sponsored by the Co-op. "They treat thousands of kids to a free pumpkin. Then we book other groups; many come every year. We're open to the public Thursday and Friday from 3-9 p.m. and the next three days after that 9-9."
It's safe to assume that the majority of pumpkins purchased in the month of October will never be eaten --- instead they will be carved into smiling Jack O'Lanterns. Some will end up rotting on backyard compost piles, a number will meet a violent end smashed in the street by rampaging youths.
"We call those Jackos for short," says Giuntoli. Among the favorite Jack O'Lantern pumpkins at Warren Creek is the Howden. "It has a nice dark orange color and a dark green stem. People tend to like its classic Jack O'Lantern shape. It's very symmetrical."
She notes that Howdens are not really the pumpkin of choice for cooks. "Your pies are normally made with a pie pumpkin. We use one called Sugar Pie. It has thicker flesh and it's less stringy. It's also a better, more manageable size. If you cut up a 40 lb. Jacko for pie filling it could last you for a couple of years."
While her preference is the sweeter, firmer Sugar Pie, Giuntoli notes that, "almost any kind of squash can be turned into a pie. In fact if you look at the ingredients on canned `pumpkin pie filling' at the store, it might say `pumpkin' and it might say `squash.' A lot of times that's Hubbard squash."
Giuntoli offers a riddle she heard, perhaps from one of the schoolchildren touring the farm. "What's the vegetable where you throw it in the air and it comes down another vegetable? That's a pumpkin. You throw it up in the air and it comes down squash."
While she won't have time for pie-making this week, she notes, "Pie season extends to Thanksgiving and on to Christmas. People like pies at both those holidays so I do cook a few holiday pies."
Her shopping tip: "Pie pumpkins are like bananas in that, as they ripen, the sugar comes to the surface and they get the same kind of brown speckles bananas do when they get nice and ripe. A ripe pie pumpkin is gorgeous with that freckling, so look for that. And, again like bananas, you can also get them a little bit green and leave them on the counter until they're ripe."
Another popular variety at Warren Creek is the Cinderella, a squat variety with a reddish color that looks like the Disney version of the fairy tale coach. Mention of the coach stirs another memory for Giuntoli, and she recites the old nursery rhyme "Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater," who "had a wife and couldn't keep her/Put here in a pumpkin shell/And there he kept her very well."
Says Giuntoli, "You think it's about a little man, but I've realized that that has to be about a mouse. Mice and rats will eat a hole in the side of a pumpkin, burrowing inside to get at the seeds. It looks just like a little door for a mouse house."
Pick your own pumpkin right in the field at Warren Creek Farms, 1171 Mad River Rd., in the Arcata Bottom. They also offer a corn maze and on Saturday from 3-5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. -1 p.m., pumpkin carving demonstrations. Call 822-6017 for more details.
You'll also find you-pick-'em pumpkins, free hay rides and a corn maze at Potter's Produce on the left at the Blue Lake exit from Hwy. 299. Call 668-5135 for hours.
And speaking of pumpkins and Blue Lake, out at the Mad River Grange Hall in Blue Lake this Sunday the Grange has its Great Pumpkin Event including a cooking contest with awards for best dessert and best savory dish.
Grange member (and Dell'Artisan) Jackie Dandeneau notes that judges will include her husband David "Guapo" Ferney (aka Mikes Meats from The '30s Show), Barb Culbertson, director of the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir, Dell'Arte artist-in-residence Amy Tetzlaff and Blue Lake Mayor Sherman Shapiro.
Dandeneau is preparing a bunch of pumpkin pies that will be given away and making trophies for the award winners. "There will be other snacks and door prizes, and we'll be pressing apples from Fieldbrook Farm. We'll have music and other fun."
Her recipe for pumpkin pie? "It's a secret. I can't give it away. Everyone will be turning their Jack O'Lanterns into pies, then what'll I do?"
Dandeneau will be among those vying for the Great Pumpkin awards. "We gave out starts in May. A bunch of people came and bought these Howden Biggie starts. They've been growing all summer, so now's the time to bring them back and be judged. We'll award the heaviest pumpkin, the one with the largest girth and the ugliest pumpkin."
Pressed again to reveal her secret recipe, Dandeneau had to admit that she will be using canned pumpkin this time around, maybe even the pre-flavored kind. "Usually I'm a fresh pumpkin gal, but I'm making 10 of them, so ..."
She concludes, "The whole Great Pumpkin Event will be fun, with lots of stuff for families with kids. Did I mention --- everything is free? Everyone should come on out."
The Great Pumpkin Event runs from 2-4:30 p.m. Oct. 30, at the Mad River Grange, 110 Hatchery Rd., Blue Lake. Call 668-9759 for more details.
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