It is true that art can be found almost anywhere and that almost anything can become art. The unsuspecting pumpkin is a suitable example. Nestled in the garden like renegade bits of the sun, they lie like orange treasure amidst the winter squashes and withering autumn vines. A plant of the American Continents, its appearance in late October festivities is much later than bats, goblins, or black cats. But Halloween is somehow not truly complete without lighted Jack-O-Lanterns on the front porch.
Now, Jack gets around—whether climbing bean stocks to stealing golden harps or outwitting giants—he’s a common figure in northern European folklore. An everyday sort of fellow who bumbles into outrageous adventures, Jack reminds us that the unexpected can be just around the corner.
Discovering the unexpected has been part of the “Master Pumpkin Carving Classes” families have been enjoying this week at our farm. While the parents or grandparents might have originally seen the event as something fun for the kids without any mess in the house, they quickly find out that pumpkin carving can go far beyond variations on Jack’s faces.
Just like a piece of stone can be a corner of a building or a magnificent sculpture, the pumpkin as a medium offers great possibilities for illuminated imagery. The face might be Dracula, with fangs and glowing eyes. Or it might be a witch with floppy hat and warty chin. Go beyond faces, and the possibilities grow quite exciting. You can make spiders, birds, cats, or any number of scenes. With a few tips for designing and executing patterns, the world of Jack-O-Lantern possibilities ignites. Working out our ideas on scratch paper first, we then draw the designs directly on the face of the pumpkins before carving.
Imagine a table, covered in black plastic for easy cleanup, with a big bowl in the middle. Kids, parents, and grandparents are all busy sawing out the lids on round, orange squashes and scooping out the stringy, seedy insides. Everyone is sticky to the elbow, laughing and talking.
“I’m pulling out its guts!” a seven-year-old boy exclaims. “Ooh, or…maybe this is its brains. My poor pumpkin is dying, AHHHHHH!”
“It’s not dying,” I explain. “It’s entering a new phase in its life.” As we scoop and carve, we put all the seeds, pulp, and pieces into the bowl, which are saved for the chickens. Chickens love the seeds—gobbling them up like tasty little bugs—then run around with the strings like treasure and peck at the carving remnants. It’s a great source of oils and sugars as the season turns cold, and pumpkin guts turned into eggs is great agrarian recycling of one project’s waste into another project’s product.
Pumpkins are a fruit and therefore have a finite life span, making Jack-O-Lanterns a transient form of art. We enjoy them for maybe a week and then, their magic spent, it is time for the pig pen or the compost pile. The humus is returned to the garden to perhaps someday grow another pumpkin.
In a way, transiency can make something more special, and it mimics much of the aesthetic elements of farming. A well-laid-out and kindly tended garden can both produce delicious food for the family and be a pleasing part of the surroundings. But in the end, the frosts will come, and the garden will be finished until the following spring, when a new layout will take its place.
There are a couple tricks, however, for getting your Jack-O-Lantern to last just a little bit longer that I’ll share with you. When carving, either plan a star-shaped lid that can be set cock-eyed when lit or cut a smoke hole in the back of a circle-shaped lid. Allowing space for the smoke to escape out the top helps keep the pumpkin from “cooking” on the inside when lit. After carving, rub all the cut edges with Vaseline, which helps to seal in the moisture and slow the dehydration (withering) process. Finally, when your creation is not lighting the front porch, wrap it in cellophane and keep it in the refrigerator. Do not leave it outside if the temperatures are freezing—exposure to frost damages pumpkins.
There still is time to enjoy a pumpkin carving class at our farm, if you wish, though calling ahead to schedule a time is always best. Maybe you’ve already been finding the hidden Jack in your pumpkins, amidst the gleeful giggles of creative youngsters. But if you haven’t yet had your fill of old-fashioned Halloween delights, here’s an event you might not want to miss.
Halloween Night Harvest Dinner and Concert
When: Friday, October 31st, starting at 6:00 p.m.
Where: Farmstead Creamery & Café, at North Star Homestead Farms
What: Join us for the first of our 2013-14 Harvest Dinner and Concert Series! Prepare to enter a magical world of stories and song from hilarious to spooky with performers Laura Berlage and Tom Draughon. A beautiful three-course dinner will showcase our pasture raised roast pork, with side dishes from the bounties of autumn’s garden. We’ll top it all off with a special apple treat.
You’re welcome to come in costume, if you like! Reservations are required. Food allergies are accommodated. $40 per person or $220 for season tickets. You can view the full Harvest Dinner and Concert Series poster on our website at www.northstarhomestead.com/docs/HarvestDinnerPoster.pdf to learn more.
Wishing for you the joys of finding the unexpected around the corner, lit by the golden glow of Jack in the Lantern. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com