Her parents planned to serve it for supper, but Sophie had other ideas.
. . .
When it was time to make supper, Sophie's mother looked at the squash.
She looked at Sophie.
"I call her Bernice," Sophie said.
"I'll call for a pizza," said her mother.
from Sophie’s Squash
written by Pat Zietler Miller
illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013
Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I’m thinking about being with family, but also about the pumpkin pies my grandson will make.
Pumpkins, gourds, and squash all belong to a large family of fruit that also includes melons, cucumbers, zucchini, and winter squashes like butternut, acorn, and spaghetti. Their botanical name is cucurbitaceae. And here’s how to say it: kew ker bi TAY see i.
Squashes are divided into the soft-skinned summer squash and hard-skinned winter squash. Gourds are also divided into hard-skinned and soft-skinned. According to Southern Living, “[n]ot all gourds are squash, but many squashes are gourds and a pumpkin is both a squash and a gourd. So pumpkins fall into both categories.
Yeah, I didn’t quite get that, either. So I kept looking. “The main difference between squash (includes pumpkins) and gourds is that squash is grown and harvested to eat while gourds are grown and cultivated for decoration purposes,” says the website of Abma's Farm, a family farm in Wyckoff, NJ. This definition is a little controversial, (and pumpkins still fall into both categories) but it’s widely accepted, so I’m going with it.
About six to eight days after pollination, a zucchini and other summer squash are ready to eat. The seeds are set, but not mature. A winter squash needs a couple of months until it is ready to harvest. The seeds and the fruit are both mature.
Since it is not a botanical term, a pumpkin can be any type of round, large, orange-yellow fruit with a thick rind, edible flesh, and many seeds. Now that makes sense.
We have a pumpkin barn at our county fair. Gourds and squash, including pumpkins, are shown in elaborate displays. And you can enter a contest for the most originally decorated gourds or squashes, all on a predetermined theme. “Favorite Movies” was a category one year. The Wizard of Oz display featured pumpkins dressed as Dorothy, the Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow. Even Toto and the Wicked Witch were there! I don’t remember if it won, but it should have.
Farmers from all over the country grow giant pumpkins. Some bring them right here to our Fair. They compete for a prize of over $5,000.00 for the heaviest one. In 2023, a grower from Anoka, MN brought the World Record Setter to Canfield, Ohio. It weighed an astonishing 2,749 lbs!
If you want to grow your own giant, here’s the basics from The Ohio State University fact sheet from their College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Click on the link for more details.
- You’ll need a lot of space. Each plant needs about 1,000 square feet to allow the vine to grow along with the pumpkin. You’ll need an area with lots of sun, too. And good drainage. And a convenient water source.
- Start with good quality seed. The giant prizewinners trace their roots back to Howard Dill’s Atlantic Giant developed by Howard Dill, himself, in the 1970s.
- Start your seeds indoors at the end of April. Each seed needs a 12-inch peat pot. They’ll be ready to transplant when the first true leaf is fully expanded. Make sure to keep your transplants safe from a late frost.
- Your plant will need at least 1 inch of water per week. Supplement if rain is insufficient.
- Hand weed as needed.
- Protect your plant from strong southwest winds until your vine’s sideurnners are 3-4 feet long. (Late June)
- For pest control, use your site only once in 3 years.
- Hand pollination is preferred. Bees and other pollinators could cross-breed your giant inadvertently.
- Prune off all but 4-6 pumpkins per vine.
- Prevent stems from breaking by moving the vine to reduce stress at vulnerable points.
- By the time your pumpkin is about the size of a basketball, it’ll need some protection from direct sun. You can rig up a shade with a bedsheet.
- Smaller giants, say 400 lbs and under, will fit in the back of a pick-up. Gather up a few friends to roll the baby onto a tarp and carefully lift.
- Larger giants will need a lifting frame and straps. You might even need a trailer to transport it.
- Celebrate your accomplishment. Even if yours is not a winner, you’ll have had fun, I hope!
Like Sophie in the quote above, our Thanksgiving dinner will be an inside affair, with cloth napkins and not-plastic dishes or flatware. Unlike Harold in Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon (HarperCollins, 1955), we will not have nine kinds of pie, just two or three. We’re not planning on having anything go to waste, but inevitably, I’m sure it will happen.
I heard a story on NPR recently about how much food we throw away. If I remember, it’s about one fourth of what we buy. Then I thought about the grocery stores and all the restaurants. I know some of that food is donated to shelters and soup kitchens, but really? So I just looked up the story. I was wrong. One fourth? No, one THIRD!
So, what to do? According to filmmakers Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin who were interviewed for an older article (from 2012):
- Buy less. Be creative with what your have on hand. Or look here for substitutions.
- Be less choosy about the perfect apple.
- Don’t worry about expiration dates. [They] don't really tell you anything about whether food is safe. Here are some practical suggestions
- Eat leftovers.
My husband, our daughter and son-in-law, and our three grandsons will make sure that three deserving, but not hungry, cats and a gerbil will have some leftover turkey. The rabbit is excluded by his own choice. He’s vegan.
No book review this week. I’m catching up with some middle-grade fiction titles that I’ve been neglecting. More next week.
-—Be curious! (and as generous as you can)