What says “fall” more than big, luscious, bright orange pumpkins? October is the season to celebrate them, and many communities do so in a big way. As autumn marks harvest time, so, too, do a slate of festivals that focus on fall’s bounty from the fields.
As farmers vie to grow world-record-breaking pumpkins, the contenders take on the proportions of a Volkswagen bug as they are hauled on trailers to weigh-offs. In some places, like Keene, NH, the focus isn’t so much on huge pumpkins, but on a huge number of pumpkins. Keene has set the world record for the most carved jack-o’-lanterns lit at one time: nearly 30,000. And amidst all the revelry, you can be sure to find pumpkin cooked up into every conceivable form of culinary concoction.
Look for a pumpkin festival near you, or make plans to travel to one of these destination events where pumpkins are on impressive display.
Oct. 20-23, 2010
A classic slice of Midwest culture, the Circleville Pumpkin Show began as an agricultural exhibit and street fair in 1903. Now, nearly 400,000 people flock to this town in central Ohio for four days of pumpkin-themed celebration: a host of parades (babies, pets, school bands), the crowning of “Miss Pumpkin Show,” pumpkin-sculpting demos, a pumpkin-pie-eating contest, clog dancing, hog calling, country music and, of course, the giant pumpkin weigh-in.
Last year’s winner topped out at 1,635.5 pounds and was 214 inches in circumference, officially measured by the director of the Southern Ohio Giant Pumpkin Growers Association. Its grower, Bob Liggett, was disappointed his entry didn’t squash the world record – 1,725 pounds, set earlier in 2009 in Canfield, Ohio – but he still holds an impressive streak of Pumpkin Show victories.
Oct. 16, 2010
The first pumpkin festival in Keene happened in 1991, when a group of townsfolk sought to build community with a novel quest: an effort to set a Guinness World Record for the most illuminated pumpkins in one place at one time. That October, 600 glowing gourds lit up Central Square on a single night. That number has been eclipsed over the last two decades, with a new world record of 29,762 set in 2009. On the upcoming 20th anniversary of the festival, organizers are hoping to break 30,000. Pumpkin donors can leave their carved jack-o’-lanterns in the square, beginning Oct. 15.
Before the final count is announced on Saturday night and the fireworks begin, Keene’s festival gets rolling with a kids’ costume parade, pumpkin-seed-spitting contest, pumpkin-pie-eating contest and live music on three stages. As you’re making your way through the festivities, sample some caramel apples, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin cider bisque or pumpkin whoopee pies from the food booths set up by local civic organizations.
Half Moon Bay, CA
Oct. 16 & 17, 2010
If Circleville’s Pumpkin Show is vintage Midwest, Half Moon Bay’s couldn’t be more California. Launched in 1970 as a means of revitalizing this small coastal town’s historic downtown, the festival brings together the bounty of northern California nature and culture.
The setting is idyllic: broad vistas of seaside farm country punctuated with rolling fields of orange (pumpkins!), scarecrows, old wooden barns and plenty of pick-your-own pumpkin patches. Half Moon Bay is at the center of one of the country’s most productive pumpkin-growing regions, with a bumper crop expected this year — some 3,000 tons waiting for individual picking on a patchwork quilt of small farms around town.
Inaugurating festival week is the gathering of the World’s Greatest Gourd Growers for the 37th annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off — the Superbowl of giant pumpkin events — on Oct. 11. For the first time this year, a $5,000 bonus prize will be awarded to any grower who breaks the world record. The grand champion, along with the top five weigh-off pumpkins, will be displayed at the Art & Pumpkin Festival on Oct. 16 & 17.
Another highlight is the annual masterpiece created by Farmer Mike, the “Picasso of pumpkin carvers,” who will sculpt a 1,200+ pound pumpkin into a whimsical piece of perishable artistry to delight fairgoers, as he has done for the past 25 years. Other events include a haunted barn, a pancake breakfast (plain and pumpkin), a Pumpkin Run/Walk, diverse musical entertainment and the creative offerings of some 250 artists and craftsmakers.
But this being northern California, the best part of the festival may be the food and drink. Celebrating the fall fruits of this famously fertile region, community service groups will satiate hungry festivalgoers with a cornucopia of seasonal fare from local farms. Alongside classics like pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread and pumpkin cheesecake, guests will find pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin churros and chicken-pumpkin brats, to name just a few.
To wash it all down, there are special pumpkin-infused libations: Half Moon Bay Brewing Company will offer its Mavericks Pumpkin Harvest Ale #5. Sam Adams Oktoberfest and Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale will also be on tap, plus a special festival release from Half Moon Bay Winery.
While orange may be the prevailing color, the festival is dedicated to keeping things green. The goal is to be a zero-waste event, with composting added this year toward that end. The festival will also feature an organic, natural, healthy and eco-friendly products showcase as part of its commitment to sustainable practices.
Feature photo credit: Al Braden