Pumpkins are capable of bone-chilling noises—especially when they ride along in the car while Nate my husband drives. The constant banging and thumping—every time Nate makes a turn—is particularly unnerving. Playing Monster Mash loudly, in an attempt to be festive and drown out the commotion, is not helping. Example: “He did the mash . . .” Bang! “He did the monster mash . . .” Thud! Thud! Thud! Thud! Bang!
“Are you sure we didn’t hit something?” I finally ask Nate.
“No. The pumpkins are loose,” he replies.
I look at Alex and we cringe, imagining the grizzly mess we might encounter when we finally park the car and open the back door. So, when we do make it home, we jump into action, swinging the car door open while yelling, “Save the pumpkins! No! Not the pumpkins! It should have been me!”—only to discover that the pumpkins are fine—absolutely fine. Thank goodness we can decorate with them—as we have done every year since Alex was two or three-years-old. (He’s fifteen now. Time, like pumpkins, flies.)
In our house, decorating with pumpkins is an easy, less-than-ten-minute affair. It basically involves “artfully” placing pumpkins and other squash about the house. We don’t actually carve any pumpkins until we get closer to Halloween, because carving, as we’ve learned from experience, just opens up plenty of mushy spaces for black mold to form, which is kind of cool Halloween day and night, but anytime before or after that, not so much. Besides, the natural shapes and colors of pumpkins or squash are incredibly glorious without any enhancement. So, here is our process for picking and placing pumpkins:
1) Go to a farmer’s market, farm, or Haagen grocery store to select pumpkins. Last year, we paid a fair amount of money at a local farm to trudge through muddy fields, get miserably lost in a maze, and go home, dripping with mud, but not pumpkins. Later on, we cleaned up and went to Haagen, where we noticed all of the brilliant pumpkins right outside the store. The sign said that these pumpkins were from the very same farm where we slipped and slid in search of happiness we could not find—until we went to Haagen. So this year, we skipped the farm and went straight to the store.
2) Choose “good” pumpkins/squash. According to a 2013 University of Nebraska Extension article by Sarah Browning, it’s important to look for pumpkins that have hard shells, shiny surfaces, and green stems. The flesh should be firm enough so as not to be easily punctured by a fingernail, either. We have other requirements as well: pumpkins should be large, round, and free (for the most part) from dents. Some should be small and some should be oval-shaped for variety. We must also buy an eye-catching mix of “species,” including what we call “Cinderella shaped,” “ghost,” “bumpy,” and “interesting.”
3) Place them around the house or outside in an attempt to “honor” the pumpkin, a fruit whose importance in the United States, stems from Colonial times. Although Colonial Americans did not decorate with pumpkins, they “consumed [them] in far greater quantities than we do today,” states Mary Miley Theobald in a 2009 article from The Colonial Williamsburg Journal. It wasn’t until the 1970s that “the pumpkins took a turn for the inedible as farmers developed hybrids that were good for carving, not eating” (Theobald). The pumpkins we have today do not resemble the ones that originated from Central America 7,500 years ago, according to food historian, Tori Avey. Those pumpkins were smaller, harder, and much more bitter. I suppose our pumpkins would be much more tasty, but we’ll never know for sure, since we won’t eat them. They’re definitely tempting at first, but at some point, they’re no longer pretty—or appetizing.
4) Plop the biggest pumpkin on a plate and slap it down on the dinner table as an easy centerpiece. I know what you’re thinking, “How might the pumpkin remain “fresh” on the dinner table?” Browning, of the University of Nebraska Extension, says that the best way to keep pumpkins and gourds fresh is to clean them with disinfectant and put them in cool, dry places that have proper air circulation. A dinner table in Washington state is definitely a cool dry place, when it’s not raining. Problem solved.
5) Break all of the rules above and attempt to decorate a small, inconspicuous pumpkin in a “unique” way. Inspired by the scary monster films of the season, I decide to “slime” a pumpkin to make it look creepy, but I also want it to be “classy.” At the local grocery store, I stumble upon an Elmer’s Halloween Slime Kit for making glittery slime. (The glitter makes it classy.) I buy my kit on sale for around $8 and I have never been more satisfied. The kit uses materials the company claims are safe, nontoxic, washable, and, in my case, do not require adult supervision from Nate. I just:
–Open the package.
–Follow the instructions for “Frankenstein slime,” which involves: 1) dumping an entire bottle of green glitter glue into a container; 2) dumping a gold glitter pen and a black glitter pen into the green glue; 3) stirring; 4) emptying a bottle of “magical liquid” into the mixture; and 5) stirring some more.
–Next, I simply spoon the mixture over the pumpkin and let it drip.
–I then get a little more daring and experiment with Halloween “prizes” like fingers, spiders, rats, and snakes from Alex’s fourth-grade Halloween party.
–I remove the decorations because now the pumpkin is no longer “classy.”
–There. Done—except for one more thing that would take it to the next level: I’ll hide it in the trunk of the car on the next family outing, so that it rolls about and makes mysterious and frightful noises.
Your Turn: Do you decorate for Halloween? What are your family fall traditions?