Startle your friends

THE seed catalogs arrived in abundance and after the usual midwinter hopeful perusal I sent in my order. And now at breakfast time she said, ``Bring some pumpkin and I'll make you a pie.'' She didn't say pumpkin -- nobody does. She said poonka, which was the way one of the children said it years ago, and we have retained that version. Every fall I cut my little pie pumpkins into chunks and put enough for a pie into freezer bags. This is like money in the bank, and many a dreary winter day warms at the prospect of a sunburst poonka pie to be tackled following the victuals. Enough for a pie amounts to just about a pound, enough to sustain her popularity at appropriate intervals. But this time I shook my head and said, ``I dreamed a terrible dream last night -- all about four-thousand-odd pumpkin pies crowding humanity off the planet, no place to put them, demonstrations at the town house, and a delegation of Russians imploring us to cut down on production.'' She said, ``Oh?''

So I fetched a package of frozen strawberries and a package of frozen rhubarb, and right now she is making a strawberry and rhubarb pie, which is also good. I brought some seed catalogs, too, and showed her why I had shifted from pumpkin. In one catalog it was on Page 7, and in another on Page 54.

Usually the various giant offerings of the seedsmen tempt me not. They like to offer snap beans three feet long, and I suppose plenty of home gardeners rally to things like that. But I stick to my old favorites pretty much and leave such oddities to the daring. I had no thoughts about buying any seeds of these gigantic pumpkins on Pages 7 and 54, but I guess I did notice the pictures enough so that I roused in the night to worry. It seems a chap in Nova Scotia, name of Howard Dill, got to fooling around and hybridized a pumpkin that will go almost to 500 pounds. He hopes to hit 500 pounds this year, but last year he got up to 4931/2 pounds, which made him the Pumpkin King of Canada. The seedsmen are now offering this Gargantuan Pepo at five seeds in a packet, $2.50 the packet (plus 90 cents for handling). Any home gardener can participate, and the blurb says you will startle your friends and get your picture in the newspapers. So there I was staring into the night, and agitated over what this man Dill has done to us.

Pumpkin seeds usually germinate close to 100 percent, but to be on the safe side, let's say four of the five seeds in each packet will sprout. The kind of pumpkins that I grow come 35 seeds to the packet but cost only 85 cents, and one packet goes me three years. So it is, I admit, from a conservative poise that I contemplate Mr. Dill's achievement. I get four or five pumpkins from each vine, and again to be on the safe side let's assume this giant variety will give us three. Three sounds reasonable. But probably not all three will go to 4931/2 pounds, so let's round them off at an even 400 pounds apiece. This means that each home gardener who embraces this opportunity will produce 4,800 pounds of pie lumber. Earlier, I said I packaged a pound of pumpkin chunks, enough for a pie, in each bag. But I notice the ``One Pie (TM)'' people pack only 15 ounces of pumpkin pie mix in their one-pie cans. That's in accordance with today's marketing practices -- some things are only 12 ounces to the big, economy size pound box. So you can get a pumpkin pie (the One-Pie brand is very good) from 15 ounces, and we are thus looking square at every home gardener as a potential producer of 5,120 pumpkin pies, on a continuing yearly basis.

The next thing to worry about is how often a family needs or wants a pumpkin pie. I would guess that one every two weeks might prove too frequent, but taking that as the hypothetical maximum, anybody can see that one packet of these seeds will supply a family with pumpkin pies for the next 196 years. After five years the Earth will be covered with pumpkin pies to a depth of 17 feet, and mankind will need to eat itself to extinction in an effort to sustain life at all.

Which is a terrible thing to contemplate, and explains why I'm having strawberry-rhubarb pie tonight. Meantime, I have a question for a seedsman in Minnesota. He says, on Page 54 of his catalog, that this Atlantic Giant pumpkin will ``. . . thrive as far north as Nova Scotia.'' The question: Which is farther north, Minneapolis or Halifax?

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