Liz Susman Karp - Oct 22, 2020
Why we love pumpkins
Fall is in full swing and pumpkins are everywhere you look. And thank goodness, because those appealingly solid orange spheres prompt comforting feelings of cozy fall sweaters, visions of colorful rainbows of changing autumn leaves, and thoughts of the joys of simple farm life.
You know, despite what some may think, it’s not just the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte that brought pumpkins to the forefront of fall. Pumpkins are native to America and were a big part of the life and diet of native Americans, who introduced the early settlers to the fruit. Fun fact: immigrants from Ireland and Scotland, who carved turnips or potatoes in their homelands, began carving pumpkins instead because they were so readily available. Hence the origin of pumpkin carving, to this day a beloved fall tradition in many households across the country.
Our love of pumpkins is real. Humans are wired to connect flavor, memories and emotions. If you’ve eaten your once-yearly slice of your mom’s special pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving while surrounded by your loved ones, you’re going to positively associate pumpkin with that experience. Ditto for happy, memorable times where pumpkins play a role, like Halloween trick or treating or fall festivals where you go on bumpy wagon rides through fields and joyfully get lost in corn mazes with friends in the crisp, invigorating fall air.
Children and children at heart (yes, that’s me) feel a thrill when they visit a pumpkin patch, thick with trailing green vines, to choose just the right pumpkin. Perhaps that’s because pumpkins symbolize a time when life revolved around the farm, when folks were connected to the land as much as to each other, and a strong work ethic and neighborly values were central. Interestingly, when people began moving to cities during the Industrial Revolution, odes to pumpkins began popping up in poems, paintings and popular culture as people strove to maintain a romanticized connection to the hard life they wanted to leave.
The popular pastime of picking pumpkins feels like a wholesome, uniquely American activity because pumpkins are so closely tied to our country’s founding. The colonists even made pumpkin beer when there was no barley to be had! Wouldn’t they be surprised to learn that pumpkin beer is now a specialty, along with pumpkin-flavored yogurt, tea, bread and even sparkling apple juice.
What’s wonderful about going to local farms to pick pumpkins or enjoy their fall festivals is how that simple act helps to keep those farms going and vital and supports a healthy life cycle of farming and food. Buying directly from farmers cuts out the middleman so the farmers receive full price for their hard work and products, stimulating the local economy so they can continue to invest in their farms. By keeping these farms agricultural, farmers are not compelled to sell their livelihoods to developers. And supporting your local farmer helps develop a connection and community, as well as an understanding of where your food comes from. These bonds and experiences are gratifying and beneficial to all.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that pumpkins are a hallmark of Halloween. Who didn’t have a plastic orange pumpkin to collect candy in during trick or treating when they were very small? I remember carefully carving my jack o’lantern and my mom lighting a candle in it, watching it glow outside on our porch at night. And then we’d take the pumpkin seeds, clean away all the gluey strands, and roast those seeds until they were crunchy - yum! As the days become shorter, decorating for the holiday with colorful pumpkins and scary skeletons makes the time of the year more festive.
In all of its round goodness, a pumpkin reminds me of a hug. Though well-known as an iconic emblem of fall, a marked part of Halloween and Thanksgiving, and a bridge to the changing seasons, a pumpkin actually symbolizes more than that. Its specialness and our warm feelings come from the realization that this everyday item possesses the ability to evoke powerful memories, connect us, and herald seasons of good times and togetherness.