DOT’S BEAT: The Mystery and Might of Pumpkins

By Dot Helling

Photo by Dot Helling

Halloween is a favorite holiday of mine. In addition to the mystery, whimsy, and costumes, I give it the credit for bringing me around to like the color orange—from mango, peach, and apricot to melon, tangerine, pumpkin, and carrot. This time of year we are immersed in a palette of oranges as our foliage turns and our friends and neighbors decorate for trick-or-treat with plenty of orange pumpkins.

The huge pumpkin located in front of the Agency of Agriculture building on State Street with a sign asking passersby to guess at its weight harkens back to the days of guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar. My adopted dad used to grow giant pumpkins, nothing quite like this one, but they could weigh a ton.  He would inscribe them when they were small, and they grew into works of art as the inscriptions expanded.

Pumpkin displays abound throughout our city, most notably on College Street, where masses of kids move in for trick-or-treat night.  Some of the residents are forced to shut down operations after passing out thousands of pieces of candy to the costumed kids.  If you’ve not experienced Halloween on College Street, do make it this year, and don’t miss out on the electric decorations and chocolate pops at the Bertolino residence. This may be their last Halloween display after 25 or more years of being “THE EVENT” and contributing unaccounted-for energy and finances. Alas, this year their giant red-and-black dragon was stolen from the front yard during daylight hours, putting a damper on their desire to continue this annual spectacular.

Keeping in theme with our festive neighborhoods, there are great Halloween displays—varying from whimsical to haunting and scary—in the Meadow, on East State Street, and in other parts of the city. In our nearby countrysides you can enjoy fields of orange pumpkins and corn mazes. 

Carved jack-o’-lanterns glow in the dark at Ellie’s Farm Market on the Northfield Road. This will be the 42nd year at Ellie’s. They started with only 50 pumpkins,  and some years the carved and lit pumpkins on the hillside behind the market have numbered more than 1,000. In past years the Settlement Farm west of Montpelier on Route 2 has also had such jack-o’-lantern displays.

Individuals have pumpkin traditions as well. Each Halloween, Angie Scott carves ornate scenes on a dozen or so pumpkins. She displays them fully lit all Halloween night outside her home. Angie has carved as many as 22. It takes her an average of four hours to carve each pumpkin from stenciled patterns. If you need a way to occupy your kid, carving ornate pumpkins can be a hit.

Pumpkins are not cheap, nor always easy to grow. Weather and soil are the key factors. They need 90 to 120 days to reach maturity. They are sold by the overall size or by the pound. The average pumpkin weighs 12 to 18 pounds. You can maximize a pumpkin’s value by carving the outside while using the innards for pumpkin pie. Or you can just buy some small ornamental pumpkins to set around the dinner table for a flavor of Halloween. It’s a great time of year to engage in fancy and take the edge off stick season.

I will celebrate by donning a homemade costume, walking the neighborhoods, and eating Snickers bars. See you out there, that is, if you recognize me!

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