Not What They Used To Be

It’s all a bit unfair, really. The year begins with January, which for some inexplicable reason, lasts around eighty days. After that is spring, a dull and pointless six month period which brings nothing but yard work. During the six months of summer, I wither in the heat shielding my eyes from the blinding sun. And then the year wraps up with the ninety-day month called Christmasber.

Squeezed in there toward the end, for a precious small amount of time, I get October. It represents the bestest season there is, which is why it’s so unfair that it’s also the shortest one. October means pumpkins and Halloween and pumpkins. It means black and pumpkins and orange and pumpkins and most of all it means pumpkins.

It’s strange to think, then, that this iconic squash, so front and center in the fall season, began its journey so unobtrusively.

While the vegetable itself can be traced back thousands of years, what we might consider its modern origins began during the American colonial period. While most pumpkins today are carved or poured into our morning coffee, back then it was an actual food, though hardly celebrated. I recently traveled back in time and sat down with famous Early American person Benjamin Franklin for an interview and asked him about the topic.

Charlie: “Mr. Franklin, than you for sitting down with me today.”
Ben Franklin: “It’s my pleasure.”
Charlie: “Is it okay if we just skip to the part about pumpkins?”
Ben Franklin: “But I have this new invention — “
Charlie: “Sorry! I’ve only got like five minutes, so I have to skip to pumpkins.”
Ben: “Okay.”
Charlie: “So what are pumpkins like in your time?”
Ben: “Well, I’d say they’re about the LAST thing we want to eat.”
Charlie: “Why?”
Ben: “They’re everywhere. Massive supply. Low demand. We can bake bread, brew beer, and work our kitchen with finer foods. No need to stoop to the pumpkin.”
Charlie: “But pumpkin bread! Pumpkin beer! Pumpkin beer is awesome!”
Ben: (scoffs) “Pumpkin beer is for people who can’t afford real grain but who can pluck a rotting gourd off the side of the road.”
Charlie: “Oh”
Ben: “Believe me, calling Peter a ‘pumpkin-eater’ is not a compliment.”
Charlie: “Well, you’re going to be a bit surprised by the twenty-first century.”
Ben: “Because of flying cars?”
Charlie: “How do you know what a car is? But no, because of how elevated the pumpkin has become in society.”
Ben: “Do tell.”
Charlie: “Well, it all began at Starbuck’s —”
Ben: “Ah! The coffee chain named after the young chief mate from the Pequod.”
Charlie: “Seriously, how do you know this stuff?”
Ben: “Well, about that invention you wouldn’t let me talk about.”
Charlie: “Yes?”
Ben: “Let’s just say, how do you think you traveled back here to talk to me in the first place?”
Charlie: “You mean —”

Sadly, at that point my time was up and I got snapped back to the present. But Ben was absolutely right. The pumpkin meant “last resort” back then and I’m sure anyone from that time period would be shocked to know we now have thousands of products, everything from pumpkin spiced coffee to pumpkin spiced dog treats.

Personally, I’m totally okay with it. In fact, to enjoy all things pumpkin even more, I move that we expand October to thirteen weeks and cut January back down to size. Does anyone second the motion?

7 Comments for “Not What They Used To Be”

says:

I did not know any of this! Super fascinating, thank you for sharing! (the Peter Pumpkin-Eater bit was especially well done)

Charlie

says:

I lucked out on that one. Just sorta came to me as I hit the middle of the post and wondered how to convey the info. My historical info, brief as it is, comes from this book which I need to buy and forgot to add as a reference.

Mom

says:

Did you know that ninety-five percent of the pumpkins processed in the United States are grown in Illinois?. Eighty percent of all the pumpkins produced commercially in the U. S. are produced within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. Most of those pumpkins are grown for processing into canned pumpkins. The town of Morton, near Peoria in central Illinois, is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World.

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