EVERY year at Halloween I notice the addiction of misguided youth to the eradication of pumpkins. Maybe the young-uns aren't foolish everywhere, but here in Maine they like to smash an otherwise inoffensive pumpkin in the roadway, leaving a splat to prove something or other. I thought, seeing these splats, that come the true pumpkin season I might speak a piece about smashing pumpkins. I was an A No. 1 punkin smasher in my time, having skill and finesse that was admired all up and down the line by the assembled punkin lovers who watched me.
No, I never busted one in the highway, but if I ever do there's going to be a master splat that will shame all these new-day amateurs who think they've found something nobody else ever knew about.
Storing pumpkins and squashes for winter in the days of the unheated farm cellar was taking a chance. Neither are good keepers unless conditions are extra favorable. Back then we had no mechanical freezers, although any farmhouse could have used any upstairs bedroom with the same effect, if we'd thought about it.
Today I cut pumpkins and squashes into cubes, put the pieces into quart plastic freezer bags, and build up an asset. No trick today to have pumpkin pies and steamed squash the year 'round. Not so in my wasted youth.
Cellars that would keep apples and potatoes, damp and just hovering above freezing, were not comfortable for the cucurbitaceous kind, and a good many of them would shortly go soft about the stems and lapse into the past tense. When sufficient disintegration had set in, Mother would be heard: ``Gracious! Somebody better clean out that punkin mess!'' It was a great waste.
But my grandfather, long before he knew anything about me, had built a great shelf in the tie-up at the barn, running the whole length and just above the heads of the cattle. It was sufficiently above so that a cow, secure in her stanchion, couldn't reach the pumpkins and squash he stored on that shelf.
Come winter, with the outdoors away down below decency, the body heat of the animals kept the tie-up cozy, and the air was conducive to storage when a cellar was not. If the dumb beasts knew what was on that shelf out of reach, it must have been tantalizing for them, as a cow dearly loves a pumpkin.
The squashes of those days ran to Hubbards, green and yellow, but the pumpkins were strictly the cattle kind, hitting 40 to 50 pounds or more - none ever went to a fair unless it could tip a hundredweight. The pie pumpkin had not been invented, I guess, but it didn't matter, because a cow pumpkin made a perfectly good pie.
When my grandmother made a pumpkin pie she didn't want to fritter around with midgets. She constructed the thing in a square baker sheet. Four corner pieces thus had crust on two sides, but a square cut from the middle of the pan ran to the clear custard, bottom pastry only, and it was just like - just like, well ... just like eating pie.
So as winter settled in, Grandmother would call for a pumpkin and somebody would fetch one from the shelf over the cows. (The same with squashes, but today's lesson is about pumpkins.)
The lush and lovely dainties that make joyful the cow's summertime will wane, and winter fare is tedious and forlorn. The same old hay day after day can be brightened by a few cut-up potatoes, apples, and turnips from the cellar, and by a dish of store-bought grain. But the real titillation of the palled bovine palate came with a taste of good pumpkin. The mood, you might say, improves.
I'd climb up in front of one of the cows and wiggle a great pumpkin off the shelf, heave it over the cow's rump, and it would fetch up in a vast and vigorous splat on the tie-up floor. Then another. Maybe four for the whole row. Lacking half her teeth, a cow doesn't readily chew into a whole pumpkin, so the things had to be smashed for a starter.
I'd climb down and distribute the pieces (how does one climb down?) and go to the house for supper, the joyful chomping of punkin-happy cows filling the tie-up with beautiful music. Not every evening at milking time would I do this, but often enough with a thought to making the supply of pumpkins linger until spring was whistling in the wind.
It was great sport to smash pumpkins, but not in the public highway as our youngsters now foolishly do.