Painted pumpkins provide a colorful alternative to carved pumpkins. Off the Water photo/TERRI GORDON

Archived Story

Gordon: Great pumpkins plentiful

Published 9:41am Saturday, October 27, 2012

Finding a great pumpkin in Southwest Michigan is easy once one knows where to look.  Several farms in the area have pumpkin patches, and some even offer festivities centered around helping folks find just the right pumpkins to use for decorating and for carving.

Barbott’s Farm and Greenhouse, in Stevensville, has eight acres of pumpkins —not all of them orange.  As part of the third generation to work the farm, owner Andy Barbott can’t remember a time they didn’t grow pumpkins, though he says pumpkins have changed over the years.

“There’s so many varieties now,” Barbott said.  “We have two varieties that are actually white.”

Pumpkins are used in a variety of ways, and choosing a pumpkin has a lot to do with what a person is going to do with it.

Always popular as Halloween Jack o’ lanterns, pumpkins are increasingly being used in autumn arrangements and other clever ways.

At Barbott’s, unique centerpieces are made mixing dried flowers with the pumpkins, hollowing them out to use as planters and painting them with popular characters and faces.

Still, to many people, the pumpkin is for carving Jack o’ lanterns.

There are new techniques on that front, too.  Computer software is available that offers folks a template to follow, and, with tools specifically designed for pumpkin carving, more intricate patterns are possible.

Barbott says children should always be supervised when working with sharp tools.  Knives designed for pumpkin carving sport a serrated edge that makes it more difficult for people to cut themselves.  Emptying a pumpkin of its seeds and mucus can be messy work and is best done outside.  Spread newspaper or a tarp to help control the mess.

When choosing a pumpkin from the field, Barbott advises folks to check for undesirable soft spots.  A sturdy stem is also a plus.  Aside from that, he says personal taste is all that matters, adding that “odd-shapes add character.”

While Barbott’s doesn’t have a pumpkin festival, it does have Pumpkinville, a playground where young children can race peddle-cars and play other games on a pumpkin-themed course.  (Bigger kids can lose themselves in the farm’s corn maze.)

The history of the pumpkin in America dates to prehistoric times, according to the History Channel website, though no one knows exactly where it originated.  What is known is that it has been around for at least 5,000 years, was one of the primary foods of pre-Columbian Native Americans and was certainly at the first Thanksgiving feast.

Pumpkins are entwined in the American traditions of harvest and Thanksgiving and in the Halloween tradition of the Jack o’ lantern.

The carving of Jack o’ lanterns harks back to an old Irish legend.  The tradition crossed the Atlantic with the Pilgrims and secured a place in American folklore in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

The pumpkin also figures into the Cinderella fairy tale; in the modern-day coic strip “Peanuts,” Linus spends every Halloween waiting for the Great Pumpkin” to appear.

While the summer’s drought wrecked havoc on other crops, it was the pumpkins’ preferred climate — warm and dry.

“We got good quality pumpkins,” said Barbott, “not a lot of problems with rot.”

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