At the end of kindergarten last year, my oldest daughter Anna (known around here as Anna Banana, or “AB”) brought home a biology project: a little plastic cup half-full of dirt with a few tiny leaves poking through. She told me she had planted a pumpkin seed and – to my shock and dismay – the damn thing had actually started to show signs of life. I dismissively told her we could plant it in our garden, fully expecting it to perish. When planting day finally arrived, AB lovingly transferred her little seedling to the far corner of the garden where it wouldn’t interfere with the real vegetables.
I had no idea that a pumpkin vine is quite a commitment.
Over the course of the summer, AB’s pumpkin went from adorable seedling to Little Shop of Horrors vine-from-hell that slowly took over our little garden. First we redirected it around the other plants, and then out of the garden entirely and into the yard, where its tacky leaves began to crawl toward the back door. Every day we would check the garden and every day this menacing vine would be just a teeny bit closer to the house. Uncomfortably close. I fully expected to wake up one morning and find this damn plant enjoying a cup of coffee in my living room.
After three months of terrorizing our yard, this monstrous plant produced a grand total of one (1) fruit, which made my little girl squeal with delight when we finally hacked it free. She insisted – nay, demanded – we do something with it. “Let’s make pumpkin pie!” she exclaimed.
Make pumpkin pie? In August? Out of a real, live pumpkin? Ain’t no one got time for that shit ($0.25).
If left to my own devices I would have just yanked the thing up and thrown it out. But I’m a mom, dammit, and this is my precious baby’s stupid plant she brought home from kindergarten and I can’t just throw it away because motherhood. AB ran to the garden almost every day to dote on that orange ball and if I just threw it out, I would be callously discarding her hopes and dreams. Only a lazy asshole ($0.25) would do that.
So I Googled it and, sure as my toddler drinks his own bathwater, that is a thing you can do with a real pumpkin. That cattle-ranch chick on Food Network gave idiot proof instructions, akin to roasting a winter squash, and it will only take an hour, start to finish!
Carving pumpkins is one of the few operations my husband performs, so I am not trained in gourd surgery. I stabbed my sharpest kitchen knife into this thing and blissfully tried to wiggle it sideways. As any pumpkin-carver knows, this is an utter exercise in futility. Once you knife a pumpkin, it grabs a hold of your weapon and will not let go. It’s like there’s a tiny gnome in the center playing tug-of-war with your blade. I hacked away at this impenetrable pumpkin for a good half-hour and narrowly avoided amputating several of my fingers. When I finally got the thing quartered, my reward was scooping and scraping seeds and pulp out of this fucking ($0.25) fruit until my arms were numb up to my elbows.
This chore reminded me of conversation I had with my mother-in-law over the summer. She grew up on a farm in Iowa and has sobering stories of how she spent her childhood: snapping buckets full of beans for hours so her family could eat in the winter; drinking unpasteurized, warm, straight-from-the-teat milk; plucking feathers from boiled chickens that her own mother had just decapitated on a stump in the backyard. No microwaves! A wringer-washer (whatever that is)! Being literally henpecked while gathering eggs from the coop! Outdoor plumbing!
Mackenzie’s Great Pumpkin Experience of 2014 seemed manageable by comparison. I always tell my kids they have to manage their own morale, and now it was my turn. Once I finished scooping and scraping and got the halves into the oven, I went about looking up recipes and formulating a game plan for what to do with this thing. First up was pureeing, which is easy when you have a souped-up food processor with the torque of a riding lawnmower. Then I set to work on no less than three different recipes.
My husband and kids checked on me regularly throughout the weekend and occasionally threw me some food while I converted this one pumpkin into two pies, four loaves of bread, forty-eight muffins and six jumbo muffins. Oh, and, just because I love my husband, I raked the seeds from the pulp, washed them, dried them, stared affectionately at them for twenty-four hours and then roasted the shit ($0.25) out of them.
It took me a sweet forever – or two full days – to move this gourd through the circle of life. At some point my husband asked how much the equivalent amount of canned pumpkin costs. I guesstimated that I had harvested about sixty ounces of pumpkin puree, or about five bucks’ worth. Obviously, this wasn’t a money-saving exercise.
I had this rather grandiose fantasy that my little girl and I would do this together. We would wear aprons and lovingly share tasks and I would let her crack all of the eggs and work the mixer and scoop the batter and she would beg me over and over to lick the beater and I would tell her no until the very end when I would hand it to her (along with a raw egg disclaimer) and send her off to slobber all over it as her reward for being mommy’s little helper and she wouldn’t drive me absolutely bat-shit ($0.25) crazy in the kitchen.
The truth is that she ditched me to binge-watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But that was okay because, once I finished baking all this shit ($0.25), she proudly reminded us that we were eating her pumpkin, and wasn’t it delicious and weren’t we so happy that she brought that little plant home so we could have all this wonderful food that she made?
Um. Excuse me, what?