There is something quite magical about pumpkins. Whether it is Halloween Jack O’Lanterns or Cinderella’s carriage, they hold a special place in our imagination, which is why they are perfect to grow with kids.
My children hate any enforced activity in the garden, but their interest in the pumpkins I grew this year was entirely natural. I stuck the seeds in a raised bed in our front garden in late May when the warm weather had already set in and apart from watering, did nothing else.
From late summer, the Little Weeds watched our small pumpkin crop grow with daily interest. They walked past our three pumpkins (which later turned into two when one was demolished by slugs and woodlice) as they left for school each morning and when they returned in the afternoon. There is something quite enchanting to children about the way in which the green Cucurbita pepo squashes appear, swell and then turn bright orange.
By Halloween, they had grown to the perfect size to carve into lanterns to light the way for trick or treaters. Using pumpkins is a North American adaptation of the ancient British and Irish tradition of carving faces into turnips and mangel wurzels, brought to the US by Irish immigrants. A pumpkin famously features in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, assuring its place in the American psyche.
As I write, I am sitting amid the detritus from the Halloween party we hosted for 14 children yesterday. This includes orange balloons, a game of ‘pin the smile on the pumpkin’, doughnuts with orange icing and orange tape warning trick or treaters to ‘Beware’. The colour of the pumpkin has taken over.
This gets me thinking about Cinderella and why Charles Perrault chose a pumpkin for the Fairy Godmother to turn into her carriage. It is partly because it is something ordinary, that would be growing in any vegetable garden at the time, but also because of its transformative powers, appearing seemingly from nowhere and producing a cucurbit that can be turned into a delicious stew or pie.
The recent trend for competitions to grow the biggest pumpkin highlights another aspect of this fairytale fruit: it is great fun. The Little Weeds certainly had lots of fun spotting the most imaginatively carved pumpkins as we went trick or treating last night, which is why our garden will definitely include a pumpkin patch again next year.