For the Love of Gourdes
We in the states have had a long love affair with pumpkins, a fruit native to North America. Northeastern Native American tribes grew squash and gourdes and introduced these fruits to the earliest settlers. It’s speculated that the original pumpkin pie started with a hollowed-out pumpkin filled with milk, honey, and spice and baked over a fire. Jack-O-Lanterns originated from Irish legend and British tradition, both carving faces into turnips or other root vegetables for lighting. It wasn’t long until settlers of North America picked up the practice, and by the end of the 19th century, the carved-out pumpkin turned into a seasonal decoration gracing front porches everywhere.
McCormick & Company came out with a pumpkin pie spice blend in 1935, feeding the pumpkin pie craze further and ensuring its spot on the Thanksgiving table. In 2003 the infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks made its debut and took us on a wild ride of pumpkin spice everything. Pinterest came along in 2010, and with it, countless boards full of colorful pumpkins and pumpkin stacks, bumping our fall curb appeal to a whole other level. And now we are in the latest craze- the Pumpkin Head. If you don’t know what I mean, check out the Instagram feed of Kiel James Patrick. This guy’s been wearing a pumpkin on his head for years. It took Tik Tok a minute to catch up. Although, Frank L. Baum’s character Jack Pumpkinhead was ahead of us all.
No matter the fad of our harvest hour, come October, we’re obsessed with all things squash in one way or another. And just like everyone else, I’m scooping up as many pumpkins as my front stoop, fireplace mantle, and dining centerpiece will allow. So any activity celebrating our beloved pumpkin, I’m there. Luckily, I don’t have to go far because Ohio seems to love pumpkins as much as I do. Several pumpkin patches sit within a 10-mile radius from where we live. A local city pumpkin glow illuminates all of our imaginations. And a beloved pumpkin show draws thousands to central Ohio. We’ve been checking it all out this October, and here’s what we found.
A Pumpkin Show
Circleville, nicknamed Roundtown, is a 45-minute drive south of Columbus, Ohio. The annual Circleville Pumpkin Show is world-renowned, celebrating central Ohio’s largest homegrown pumpkins, crowning a Little Miss Pumpkin, and displaying a giant pumpkin pie that once held “world’s largest” for over 40 years.
This year was my first time attending, and it was giving me all those Halloweentown/Hocus Pocus vibes, along with some of that midwestern charm I love. The four-day schedule includes seven parades, a pie-eating contest (pumpkin, of course), a pumpkin toss, live music, rides, and games. Not to mention the food: pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin pie, pumpkin waffles, and believe it or not, pumpkin burgers. I heard good things about the pumpkin chili, so I hunted some down- the verdict: delicious. And, of course, I couldn’t resist a pumpkin soft-serve cone.
We stopped into Ivy Court, a charming little shop in the center of town filled with potted greens and all things “Mr. Winky.” That’s the show’s mascot, and I have to say he’s pretty cute. In fact, he might be my favorite thing about this whole thing.
After participating in my first Circleville Pumpkin Show, I see the appeal. The community is showing off its harvest, first and foremost. And that’s what started this event in the first place. The community bonds here are evident and the excitement is palpable. Someone said the show is like Christmas for Circleville except bigger. It sure feels that way. Entering the town, it’s impossible to miss the city water tower- a giant pumpkin constructed in the air for all to see. Leaving at dusk, we caught a glimpse of the full moon in our rearview mirror. It was a full orangy-red harvest moon, like a pumpkin, rising over the city’s festivities. Bewitching, to say the least.
A Pumpkin Glow
Stoddard Pumpkin Glow has become a tradition in the Dayton area around Halloween. Over 1,000 glowing pumpkins cover a large hill tucked behind the Dayton Art Institute. Volunteers spend days ahead of the event carving out unique designs- some playful, like emojis, while others bare hauntingly beautiful facades. By dusk, the lawn lights up with a peppered orangey glow. It’s a beautiful sight and a cherished community activity conceived in 1994 by the late Judith Chaffin, a Dayton local nicknamed “The Pumpkin Lady.” It’s in her honor that the community continues this enchanting tradition.
A Pumpkin Patch
Every fall, I have a list of surrounding local farms to buy my pumpkins from- each with its own unique appeal. The list keeps growing, and I’m okay with that. As if I’d make one trip to buy pumpkins for the whole season in one go, anyway. On the contrary (and to my husband’s delight), I stretch this festivity out from the first day of autumn to Halloween. You can never really have too many pumpkins.
My favorite spot is Peifer Orchards in Yellow Springs. We’ve been coming here for the past ten years. And what keeps us coming back is the colorful and plentiful pumpkin selection. They’ve got gobs! And in every color, shape, and size you can imagine. They also have a classic pumpkin patch tucked between their sunflower field and apple orchard, pictured above. With yummy apple cider slushies and the artsy, funky downtown of Yellow Springs minutes away, it’s quite the fall destination. The word idyllic comes to mind.