the great pumpkin search

As a child, I remember picking pumpkins. Big and small. Orange and round.  Smooth but grooved, accented with a prickly green stem on top.

Rainy October days were frequent growing up in Seattle. Each year, my family would go on the great pumpkin outing in search of the perfect pumpkin.

We carved them early. The weather was crisp, cool, perfect for pumpkin preservation. I remember being very small and my dad would carve out the face of my pumpkin. I spent my time digging out “the guts” and dropping them onto the local newspaper. I remember the smell of fresh pumpkin filling the kitchen where we were carving.

When we were done, we’d separate the pumpkin seeds and my mom would shake salt over our bounty and bake them in the oven. A favorite autumn memory.

Now with a family of my own, pumpkin picking has a slightly different flavor living in California.

It’s a Sunday morning in October and we are in the middle of a heat wave. Today, the temperature rises quickly to the high nineties. It is impossibly hot.

Lucky for us, the pumpkin farms are out towards the Pacific. Farm after farm tucked into the valley between our home and the cool ocean breezes.

The temperature drops to a comfortable sixty-eight degrees and we travel slowly over the hill to our destination. Half Moon Bay is known internationally for their art and pumpkin festival. Not only can you see a 1,800 pound pumpkin, but there are miles of art and pumpkin themed food to satisfy any pumpkin aficionado. Just you and 300,000 of your closest friends on one weekend in the middle of October. This is why we go pumpkin hunting early in the month.

This year we decide to visit the first pumpkin farm along highway 92, 4-c Pumpkin farm. It has all the things the kids love. Bouncy houses. Pony rides. A petting zoo and of course, pumpkins. Long rows of pumpkins in all shapes and sizes stretch down the dusty field. Festive corn stalks decorate the horizon.

The girls jump out of the car excitedly. They immediately pick up pumpkins, and say, “This is the ONE!” Only to be distracted by an even better one down the path. We zig zag back and forth across the patch, finally identifying our perfect pumpkins.


We took our pumpkin treasures and placed them onto an empty picnic table. Excitedly, Mia ran directly for a pony ride and Ava spent her time in the petting zoo.

Miniature ponies patiently walked round and round in a circle. Mia had the ride all to herself. She picked a small blonde pony to ride. She grinned from ear to ear.

Ava pet fluffy bunnies, friendly goats, some chickens, and a pot bellied pig named Johnny.

Soon it was time to go, so we paid for our precious parcels, put in them in the trunk, and went on our merry way.

We took our pumpkins on a short road trip out to a favorite spot, Sam’s Chowder House, and had lunch. The girls then spent some time swimming in the ocean and playing in the sand. A nice break from the heat that was waiting for us back at home. No hats. No jackets. No umbrellas. No boots.

Just flip flops and swimsuits.


Funny thing about pumpkins, they look all innocent and normal sized when they are out in the patch. Even when you pick them up, they seem reasonable. However, once I set them on the bricks in front of the fireplace, they looked ginormous. Did they grow in the car on the way home? Is there some sort of Great Pumpkin magic I am unaware of?

I guess it doesn’t really matter, they look awesome. I can’t wait until we get to carve them. I should mention that I have the same sizing problem with Christmas trees.

Pumpkin carving is different now too. During my childhood, we carved pumpkins well in advance of the holiday and they would keep. No mold. No saggy or collapsed faces. They would be crisp and fresh well after Halloween had come and gone.

California doesn’t offer the same pumpkin grace period. At best, we can carve them 3-4 days before the big day.

Regardless, the fun of the experience is the same. There is joy in pulling out pumpkin “guts”. A satisfaction carving a face you drew yourself.

The ceremonious lighting of the candle on the first night and watching your pumpkin face come to life. Glowing softly in the dark of night, calling to all the ghosts, witches, and bats. Come out! Come out! Halloween is almost here.

Pumpkin picking and carving is a timeless tradition. It is what turns a simple pumpkin into a true Jack O’ Lantern.

Happy Halloween.

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