There they are. The leaves and vines have shriveled away to reveal the round, orange spheres that herald the arrival of Thanksgiving and of course, Halloween. As you drive the Pat Bay Highway north towards Sidney and Swartz Bay, coasting down the hill towards Islandview Road, glance right, and you can’t miss them. Fields full of hundreds of ripe, orange pumpkins right next to the Michell farm store. My wife likes to call these ‘free-range pumpkins,’ since many of them don’t seem to be attached to a plant from our distant view.
I have a history with pumpkins. My dad used to plant about half-an-acre of them in the back part of our large garden. In the fall I would climb onto our garden tractor with its little trailer, fill it up and pilot it down to the end of our driveway, where passers-by would stop and choose their Halloween pumpkins. Just 25 cents for a small pumpkin, 50 cents for a large one. One weekend I raked in a whole 30 dollars! I was rich, until my mom said, “Hand it over. That’s too much for you.”
Oh well. Today pumpkins are still relatively inexpensive, especially when you take advantage of the whole pumpkin. Just paint a face on your pumpkin for Halloween. Then you have all the flesh to use in recipes like pumpkin pie, pumpkin crème brulee, or savoury dishes like the one I learned in Italy, tortelli di zucca, little pockets of pasta dough stuffed with roast pumpkin sweetened with amaretti cookies and served with a robust sage butter sauce. Save the seeds too and roast them on a baking sheet in a hot oven with sea salt or maybe a little smoked paprika or spicy Organic Fair chili lime salt.
Check around your local bakeries for pumpkin specials as well. In Cowichan Bay, True Grain Organic Bakery always makes a delicious pumpkin-shaped and flavoured challah bread and you’ll find a great pumpkin loaf at Victoria’s Ashcroft House Bed and Breakfast. Orange you glad it’s pumpkin time?
Don Genova is a Vancouver Island-based award-winning freelance journalist specializing in food and travel. Find him online at dongenova.com.