Pumpkins: Carve ’em, chuck ’em, put ’em in a pie

From Baby Boos to Old Zebs, the pumpkin is one versatile squash
By: Paul Cambra, Journal Staff Writer
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The pumpkin is, by far, the most storied vegetable around. It plays a significant role in not just one, but two major American holidays. In literature, it’s been turned into a coach, hurled by a headless horseman and consumed in liquid form by young wizards and Muggles alike. And who hasn’t felt a little sympathy for Linus Van Pelt, spending Halloween night in a garden patch, awaiting the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.
And now, after all of these years of heaping cultural importance upon this otherwise unremarkable orange squash, people have taken to “chuckin” them.
That is, putting them in a catapult or air cannon and seeing how far they will fly. And it’s turned into a cultural craze, with annual festivals around the country and the world championships held in Bridgeville, Delaware.
While the pumpkin’s popularity as a pie peaks in mid-to-late November, its recreational uses are gearing up right about now. But where do you go to find that perfect jack-o-lantern in waiting?
For the busy and/or boring, just head to the local supermarket to unceremoniously select your squash. For those with even the slightest bit of adventure in them, you’ll want to visit one of the many pumpkin farms the area has to offer.
A trip to the pumpkin patch has become an annual ritual for many families and a popular field trip for schools and daycares. In addition to a wide array of pumpkin choices and varieties, most farms have other activities for the kids. Hay rides, pony rides, bounce houses, petting zoos, even a zip line that runs on the weekends at Bishop’s in Wheatland.
Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm
Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm in Wheatland has about 50 acres devoted to pumpkins.
“We’ve changed fields this year, back to the original ones we used 10 years ago, and it’s the best crop we’ve had that I can remember,” said owner Austin Bishop. “We also have new, permanent bathrooms, nice clean facilities.”
Bishop’s also has a hay jump, a corn maze, a real locomotive and pig races.
The Flower Farm Nursery
The Flower Farm in Loomis is raising funds for the Placer Food Bank.
“Bring a can of food and take a hay ride,” said Patty Foust. “Along the hay ride we have pumpkin-people vignettes set up. Our theme is the Flower Farm Olympics.”
Foust said a dozen families took part, each one creating a vignette, like “Plants vs. Zombies Basketball” or the “Black Widow Hunger Games.”
Visitors can vote for their favorite, with the winner getting $200.
Horton Farms
Horton Farms, also in Loomis, has a hay ride that will take you past goats and chickens.
“It’s a quiet farm,” said owner Doug Horton. “You can’t see us from the road. We have an 800-foot driveway, and then you come upon a secret little pumpkin patch.”
Horton said they offer around 10 varieties of pumpkins, including some specialty ones like mini sugar babies.
Poppy Lane Pumpkin Patch
You can buy a season pass to enjoy the activities at Poppy Lane Pumpkin Patch in Auburn. Good through Halloween, the passes allow kids unlimited access to the bounce houses and slides and one hay ride per visit. Cost for a pass is pro-rated, decreasing as the season winds down.
“We are open and running,” said owner Debi Powell. “We have bounce houses and an air slide. Five inflatables in all.”
They also feature a wide variety of pumpkins and gourds and a picnic area to enjoy your lunch.
Rickey Ranch
Rickey Ranch in Granite Bay will hold a crafts fair on the weekend of Oct. 13 and 14. “There will be food vendors, hay rides, farm animals, a hay bale pyramid and live music with the Cypress Band,” said owner Stephanie Rickey. “And local honey from our honeybees.”
Rickey said their patch is layered with straw, so toddlers, – or adults for that matter – won’t get too dirty when searching for that perfect pumpkin.
Tumbling Creek Farms
Michelle Murray, owner of Tumbling Creek farms in Auburn, said this is their first year setting up a pumpkin patch. It’s a small farm, but it does not lack for variety.
“We are going to have a good mix of jack-o-lantern pumpkins, some butternut squash, eggs and goat milk soap for sale,” Murray said.
They are a working farm, so kids can expect to see some pigs and sheep and goats and chickens.
Zittel Farms
Over in Folsom, Zittel Farms has been in business since 1976, and the only working farm left in the area.
“We have animals, a petting zoo, pony rides on the weekends, a small corn maze, hay rides and a pumpkin patch,” said owner Gail Zittel. “We are a tradition. We teach and show kids how things grow and what we do here on the farm.”
Besides the traditional holiday pumpkin, Zittel said the farm offers a variety of gourds and other fall decorations for sale.
Conspicuously absent from these local patches is any “chunkin” activity. Does this mean Placer County is not yet ready to set up the slingshots and trebuchets?
“There are pumpkin farms out there doing that,” Bishop said. “But we are a family-friendly farm. Destructive things aren’t what we do.”
But Rickey Ranch owner Aaron Rickey wouldn’t discount it entirely.
“As a fabricator, I’ve looked at it from that angle,” Rickey said. “I thought of making something small for the people to come out and shoot, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. Just running the pumpkin patch is enough right now. Maybe somewhere down the line.”
Until then, we’ll rely on the Mythbusters to bring us all of the action, while we partake in the more “down-to-earth” fall festivities the area has to offer.