I remember those days of trying to find the best-looking
pumpkin, but since my kids have grown up I haven’t given pumpkins
that much thought.
Recently I listened as a co-worker talked about looking for just the right pumpkin for a Halloween jack-o-lantern. She described in detail her intensive search for a beautiful round pumpkin, not too big nor too small, just the right shade of orange and with a stem that was just the perfect length.

I remember those days of trying to find the best-looking pumpkin. But since my kids have grown up I haven’t given pumpkins that much thought. We’ve had some come up in our garden through the years and at Halloween we always try to have one or two on the porch, but I stopped carving them a few years back. Somewhere along the way pumpkin carving went from being a real joy to a real pain in the neck.

Perhaps it was having four kids demanding my attention during pumpkin-carving time that took some of the joy out of it. Plus, I always seemed to get stuck with the job of scooping out the guts – that stringy, slimy orange mess with seeds dotted throughout. If that wasn’t enough, I got my kids hooked on home-baked pumpkin seeds so after the guts were scooped, the seeds had to be sorted, washed, oiled, salted and baked, always by me.

When it comes to carving pumpkins I’ve gotten lazy. Instead of spending time carving, I grab a permanent marker and draw on a face. Making a quick paper plate hat completes the job. There are no candles to keep an eye on or messes to clean up.

As my co-worker described her search for the perfect pumpkin, she also mentioned the pumpkin patch she shopped at had a weight-guessing contest for an extremely large pumpkin in the group. All this talk of pumpkins got me thinking. There are contests for the largest pumpkin, contests for the best-carved pumpkin and the best-looking pumpkin, but I’ve yet to hear of a contest for all those pumpkins left in the pumpkin patch simply because they don’t fit the perfect pumpkin standards.

When it comes to watching out for the underdog, I’ve always been a bit of a softy. With that in mind, I think it’s time to have a pumpkin-carving and pumpkin-decorating contest for those misshapen pumpkins that usually sit ignored in the pumpkin patch. Think of how limited perfectly round pumpkins are to the creative mind.

Now, pumpkins with a bit of character could be a lot of fun to carve. So what if they’re lopsided, too tall or too flat? Who cares if one side is round, the other flat? What does it matter if they slant a little bit to one side. These little orange wonders could bring out the imaginative best in both young and old.

Contestants armed with a pencil, carving knife, markers or colored paper might find these unusual-shaped gourds come with their own personalities. A slice here, a bit of marker there and pumpkins could go well beyond the traditional (and often boring) jack-o-lantern faces. No longer would artists be stuck with faces and more faces. Now they would be able to carve out a number of different items.

Car buffs might look for a rectangular-looking pumpkin and carve out the vehicle of their dreams. Animal lovers would surely be able to find shapes they could easily make into wolves, horses, dogs, cats or birds. Anglers might find a fish-shaped pumpkin, draw on a few scales and have a fun pumpkin everyone wants to see.

Since pumpkins come in any number of shapes and sizes, the possibilities are almost endless. Not all pumpkins are orange either. White pumpkins are becoming more popular all the time. Then there are the turban-shaped pumpkins that always remind me of the tales of Aladdin.

And let’s not forget the small pumpkins that have become quite prevalent in the last few years. These tiny little gourds could be used in groups to create a variety of scenes. Painted green and strung together, they’d make some great-looking bugs.

It’s almost too late to get a new pumpkin contest going for this year, but next year I can only hope those homely little outcast gourds, usually left to rot in the fields, get their chance to shine.

-Cindy Brown is a Free Lance correspondent and a long-time Hollister resident. Her column appears on Mondays.

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