Too Late For Pie

Shortly after this article posted three years ago, a leaky pipe was exposed, and has since been repaired.

Tony Tomeo

P71203Just a few feet downhill from where the old valley oak had lived for centuries (https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/goodbye-to-an-old-friend/), a pumpkin vine appeared shortly after the big oak stump was ground out. That was in late September, so was much too late for it to do much; or so I thought.

The vine grew very quickly! It is hard to say if it got water from a leaking pipe. A valve manifold that is visible in front of the stump in the original picture is completely obscured by the foliage of the vine in the second picture. With all the heavy work that was done right on that spot, it would have been very easy for a pipe or exposed valve to get damaged. (Water from a previously leaky pipe or valve could have contributed to the demise of the tree, by promoting the development of excessively heavy foliage that caused…

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Pumpkin

Brightly colored pumpkins ripen in autumn.

Actually, it is a fruit; a rather BIG fruit. It happens to be one of the more familiar of winter squash, but is not too commonly eaten. Although it makes excellent pie, and provides edible seeds and flowers, pumpkin is more popularly known as jack-o’-lanterns or Cinderella’s ride to the ball. Pumpkin is not for every garden, since each big and coarsely foliated annual vine needs regular watering, rich soil and considerable space to grow all through summer to produce only one or two big fruit in autumn.

Most pumpkins are big and round, and have smooth and bright orange skin. Those grown for jack-o’-lanterns are brighter orange, and not quite as meaty. Those grown for pie are often a bit smaller and meatier, with a rustier orange color. The biggest pumpkins get too huge to move easily, but lack flavor. The flavors and densities of many weird modern varieties are as variable as the green, red, pink, yellow and white hues of their skins. Some pumpkins have been developed specifically for their seeds, which are known as pepitas, or are used for production of pumpkin seed oil.

Pumpkin

41001Actually, it is a fruit; a rather BIG fruit. It happens to be one of the more familiar of winter squash, but is not too commonly eaten. Although it makes excellent pie, and provides edible seeds and flowers, pumpkin is more popularly known as jack-o’-lanterns or Cinderella’s ride to the ball. Pumpkin is not for every garden, since each big and coarsely foliated annual vine needs regular watering, rich soil and considerable space to grow all through summer to produce only one or two big fruit in autumn.

Most pumpkins are big and round, and have smooth and bright orange skin. Those grown for jack-o’-lanterns are brighter orange, and not quite as meaty. Those grown for pie are often a bit smaller and meatier, with a rustier orange color. The biggest pumpkins get too huge to move easily, but lack flavor. The flavors and densities of many weird modern varieties are as variable as the green, red, pink, yellow and white hues of their skins. Some pumpkins have been developed specifically for their seeds, which are known as pepitas, or are used for production of pumpkin seed oil.

Horridculture – All Hallows’ Eve

P81031All Saints’ Day is November 1. As the name implies, it is a feast day that honors all Saints. It is one of the most important Holy Days of the Catholic Church. Yet, not many of us know about it.
We are much more familiar with the day before, which had been known as All Hollows’ Eve, and is now known simply as Halloween. Although some of the associated traditions are fun for children, Halloween has become an excuse for people to dress up in costumes, party, ruin perfectly good pumpkins, and behave stupidly. What an unsaintly way to celebrate, just prior to the day designated to honor all Saints!
Saint Patrick’s Day is no better. People dress up in green, party, exchange disposable potted shamrocks, and behave stupidly, all on a day that had been designated to honor a Saint whom they know very little about, and care even less about.
Mardi Gras at least makes a bit more sense, with all the indulgent behavior just prior to forty days of good behavior and fasting. Even societies that do not party for Mardi Gras have old traditions of feasting on foods that will be abstained from through Lent, just to avoid wasting them. It is easy to see how such feasting and indulgence evolved into over indulgence and partying. Mardi Gras lacks a tradition of wasting innocent horticultural commodities like pumpkins and shamrocks.
Easter, at the other end of Lent, is still a respectable Holy Day. Most people know that it is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, and celebrate accordingly. Perhaps a bit of indulgence is in order after forty days of fasting, Colored eggs nestled in fake grass, and disposable potted lilies, do not seem to be as inappropriate as ruined pumpkins.
Christmas is the most complicated Holy Day of all. It should probably be divided into two separate Holy Days. The primary Christmas should be the celebration of the birthday of Jesus. The secondary Christmas, which could be assigned another day, and given a different name, could be a celebration of disposable potted poinsettias, dead mistletoe, and a fat guy in red coming down chimneys to deliver gifts under dead coniferous trees that would be terribly embarrassed by their tacky adornments if they were alive.
There is more to Holy Days than pumpkins, shamrocks, lilies, poinsettias, mistletoe and coniferous trees.

Pumpkins Need Not Be Wasted

81107thumbThere is likely no other fruit that gets wasted quite like pumpkins. Almost all get hollowed and carved into Jack o’lanterns, illuminated from within for Halloween, and then discarded or added to compost within the next few days after Halloween. If they stay too long in the yard or on the porch, they mold or get partly eaten by squirrels. They were fun while they lasted, but the party is over.

Most people who use pumpkins for Halloween décor do not consider recycling them in the kitchen. Pumpkins carved into Jack o’lanterns are considered to be as disposable as cut flowers that have started to fade. Realistically, Jack o’lanterns that were carved several days prior to Halloween are probably too far gone by now to be recycled, and some are too sooty and toasted inside.

Of course, those that are not so deteriorated can be used in the kitchen like other winter squash. Sooty or toasted portions are easily cut away and discarded. The brightest orange pumpkins that were bred to make the best Jack o’lanterns, are not as meaty or as well flavored as those that are grown for culinary use, but they are not bad either. Their thinner shells are quick to bake or roast.

It seems that most pumpkins in supermarkets this year are not quite as bright orange as those that were developed specifically for Jack o’lanterns. They also seem to be more dense with thicker shells, as if bred to be recycled in the kitchen after Halloween. The smaller and more brownish pumpkins that are heavy with thick shells are probably still the best for pies, even if no fun to carve.

White, pink, green, yellow, red and bluish gray pumpkins are as variable as their colors are. Any are worth trying in the kitchen. Although some are quite bland, others have rather distinctive flavor. Those that are deeply furrowed or very lumpy are of course awkward to work with. Like other winter squash, pumpkins are very tough, so it is important to be careful when cutting them into pieces.

Winter Squash Last For Months

IMG_20140301_073739With all the talk about replacing warm season vegetables and bedding plants with their cool season counterparts this time of year, we should also address the irony of summer squash and winter squash. Their designations suggest that they too grow in specific seasons; summer and winter. Duh. It would make sense that summer squash would be replaced by winter squash during autumn.

However, both groups are warm season vegetables that can get planted or sown as seed in early spring. The vines of both summer and winter squash grow through spring and summer, and then eventually succumb to the first frost. The difference is that summer squash start producing early and abundantly, and continue to produce through summer. Winter squash ripen slowly in autumn.

Summer squash, like zucchini, pattypan and crookneck squash, are very prolific. Zucchini can be overwhelmingly so. However, their fruits, which are incidentally considered by most to be culinary ‘vegetables’, are best fresh. Otherwise, they are quite perishable. They can be frozen or canned, but do not hold up well. Consequently, good summer squash are unavailable after the first frost.

Winter squash, like Hubbard, acorn, butternut, turban and spaghetti squash, as well as pumpkins, are not nearly as productive. Individual plants might produce only single large fruits, or only a few small fruits, depending on variety. These fruits develop and ripen so slowly that they are not ready until autumn, as the vines are withering. Supposedly, exposure to slight frost improves their flavor.

The advantage of winter squash is that the fruits are tough enough to be stored for months into winter, hence their designation as winter squash. Some pumpkins can be stored out of the weather for months after winter, although flavor and nutritional quality slowly deteriorate. If that is not long enough, the flesh of winter squash can be peeled, and then frozen or canned. Unfortunately, winter squash are no substitute for summer squash, and take more work to cook, but they are certainly worth growing.

The Great Pumpkin

P81007The Third Day of Creation was when it all started. Plant life was created just two days after Heaven and Earth, and Night and Day. It must have been a pretty big deal. Humans were not created until three whole days later!
After all this time since Creation, the flora of the World is still just as important as it has always been. Vegans can survive without the consumption of animal products, but no one can survive without the consumption of plants, or the consumption of animals who were sustained by plants. We breath oxygen generated by plants. We live in homes made of wood. We wear clothes made of cotton. Until relatively recent history, wood was the primary fuel for cooking and warmth through winter. Even modern fossil fuels that have replaced wood are derived partly from fossilized plants. There seems to be no end to the long list of what plants do for us.
As if all that were not enough, plants provide pleasure. Some are dazzling desert wildflowers. Some are majestic forest trees. Most are something in between. Many are invited to inhabit our gardens, landscapes and even our homes and offices. Some are bred to do what they do even better than they did originally.
David Paul, in the picture above, made a career of cabinetry, which involved all sorts of fancy and exotic woods. Most of these woods were derived from genetically unimproved trees that would have been found growing in the wild. Most were from eastern North America. Some were from other continents. Some of the favorite maple burls were specifically from New England and the Pacific Northwest. David Paul was no horticulturist, but he knew quite a bit about the flora that produced the fancy woods that he worked with.
The pumpkin is another story. David Paul grew giant pumpkins for several years in Colorado Springs merely because he enjoyed doing so. It required serious dedication throughout the entire long growing season. Yet, the pumpkins were grown only for the fun of competition. As huge as they were, they were not to be eaten. That is the epitome of growing something merely for the fun of it. This is such an excellent picture of that epic pumpkin that it was the illustration for the obituary of David Paul.

Too Late For Pie

P71203Just a few feet downhill from where the old valley oak had lived for centuries (https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/goodbye-to-an-old-friend/), a pumpkin vine appeared shortly after the big oak stump was ground out. That was in late September, so was much too late for it to do much; or so I thought.

The vine grew very quickly! It is hard to say if it got water from a leaking pipe. A valve manifold that is visible in front of the stump in the original picture is completely obscured by the foliage of the vine in the second picture. With all the heavy work that was done right on that spot, it would have been very easy for a pipe or exposed valve to get damaged. (Water from a previously leaky pipe or valve could have contributed to the demise of the tree, by promoting the development of excessively heavy foliage that caused the large limbs to break and fall.)

Despite the vigor and size of this remarkably healthy pumpkin vine, no fruit developed. Only a few undeveloped fruit can be found now, and the weather is getting too cool for it to mature. The foliage and flowers are already starting to succumb to mildew and decay, and will eventually get frosted. If there is any fruit obscured by the foliage, it will become visible when the foliage collapses.

Regardless, the pumpkin vine really seemed to have fun while it had the chance. How many of us get to grow pumpkin vines this big through an entire growing season? It got plenty of sunlight, and must have been getting water from somewhere. The soil is good there. As you can see in the picture, it had plenty of room to grow.

What is so special about that spot? If there is not a water leak that needs to be repaired, what else could be grown there next year?!P71203+

Pumpkins Wait For No One

71004thumbThings might have gone better for Cinderella if she had taken a Buick to the ball instead of that detrimentally punctual pumpkin coach. It was on such a tight schedule! It might have seemed like a good idea on the way too the ball. It certainly was a unique ride. The problem was that it made no accommodation for Cinderella’s tardiness at midnight. It adhered firmly to its own strict schedule.

Pumpkins and other vegetables are just as punctual in our own gardens. Pumpkin leaves eventually succumb to mildew late in summer. This year, they might be a bit more worn out than they typically are by this time, because of the surprisingly warm weather a while back. They are just finishing up anyway. They only need to sustain fat pumpkin fruit as it ripens for the next month or so.

Some of the oldest leaves might get cut away if they get so dry and crispy that they are obviously no longer viable. The best and most functional leaves will be farthest from the roots. Unfortunately, that is also where the ripening pumpkins are. They need the leaves to sustain them, but they also need sunlight to color well. Leaves that shade fruit should be bent away, or cut away if necessary.

For even ripening, pumpkins should be grown on their sides, and turned or rolled a quarter turn every few days or so. There is no precise formula, but they should not be turned in the same direction too much. Otherwise, they get twisted off their stems. They can be grown standing on their flower ends if they sometimes get turned on their sides to expose their flower end undersides.

Regular turning also promotes symmetry, and should prevent the fruit from sitting in the same position long enough to rot. Just to be safe, in well watered gardens, or where the soil is constantly moist, it might be a good idea to put small boards under pumpkins. Unfortunately, there is no remedy for damage caused by the heat. Damaged pumpkins will just make uglier jack-o’-lanterns.

Big bright orange pumpkins with thin shells work best for jack-o’-lanterns. Smaller brownish orange pumpkins with thick shells are grown for baking and pies. Their external appearance is not as important, although well ripened pumpkins have better flavor. White, pink, green, yellow, red and even blue gray pumpkins are just weird. They look great for Halloween, but do not taste like much.