Minding P's and Q's About Squash and Pumpkin

Tobias Goddard was a gentleman of renown and lives in legend. He was a positive sort and quick to refute any misinformation other people might credit in their ignorance.

For example, he stood by the roadside at Greenback Corners all one afternoon disputing with a fingerboard about how many miles to Lewiston. His sort of futile logic would be great to level at these television experts who make little errors about such weighty matters as the number of stones in the Great Pyramids or the size of Napoleon's hat.

The other night, a contestant was asked what other pie is sometimes made from a squash. He said pumpkin and won $3 million, but that would have brought old Tobias Goddard right up off his Morris chair. Best of all the Tobias Goddard stories is the one about his brick count.

He had a clay pit and burned bricks, and he delivered bricks about the county with a jigger, a one-horse cart balanced on two wheels like a teeterboard. The jigger was made for hauling bricks and had no other function.

With the horse harnessed into the ''sharves,'' the jigger had to be loaded carefully to keep the balance just so. Otherwise, it would lift or weigh down, either being uncomfortable for the horse. When rightly balanced, the single horse could trot along nicely with a considerable load of bricks. And one day, Tobias Goddard was loading the jigger and his son Pritchard was helping him. Pritchard would pass up four bricks at a time, and Tobias would keep the count.

There was an oddity concerning bricks. Four bricks may be taken between the two hands and held pressed together. Simple friction holds them so none slips. You can't do it with five bricks, and three are too few for practical handling.

So Tobias stood on the jigger, at rest and suitably braced, the horse not yet attached, and he would reach over and take four bricks from Pritchard. Pritchard would stoop to pick up four more bricks, and Tobias would carefully place them on the jigger, keeping everything neat and keeping count, not only to keep the weight equally divided but to know how many bricks the customer was getting.

A terrible thing happened. Somehow everything went wrong, and suddenly the weight of the bricks got out of hand, and one end of the jigger went up and the other end went down, tipping what bricks had been loaded onto the ground and catapulting Tobias Goddard rump-over-bandbox into the adjacent clay pit, which, like all clay pits, was full of stagnant water to about 15 feet.

Pritchard could only stand and gaze at the disarranged green slime, helpless at the thought of losing his father. The jigger, lacking Tobias Goddard's weight, was returned to Position 1. And now, Tobias Goddard appeared from the clay pit, scrambled up the glutinous banking, dripping ooze, and resumed his place. ''The count,'' he said, ''was 168.''

As to whether or not you can make a pumpkin pie from a squash, the answer, no matter how much you pay the experts, is no. Besides, contrary to ''Jeopardy,'' we do not make pumpkin pies for Halloween. It is conceivable that at one time or another somebody in the New England area, the birthplace of pies, has eaten a pumpkin pie on Allhallows Eve. It is further possible that the pie he ate was purposely, inadvertently, or even deviously, manufactured from a squash.

But this was not because pie is sacred to Halloween. Pie is any-time fare. And it is true that the presidential special train backed one evening, all the way from Chicago to Washington, to get the apple pie that had been forgotten -- the pie for Calvin Coolidge's breakfast. Trouble was thereby averted, as everybody knew that when Calvin missed his pie he wouldn't make a characteristic Vermont remark all day.

Tobias Goddard would point out that when we make a pumpkin pie from squash, we get a squash pie, which is the same things as a pumpkin pie but different. The way to tell them apart is by the stems. The stem on a pumpkin is brittle, hard, bony. The stem on a squash will be soft.

An easy test is made with a jackknife blade. If there is penetration, it's a squash pie. If the knife blade curls up and snaps apart, it's a pumpkin. Either one (or both) is a statutory essential at a New England Thanksgiving dinner. Also at any New England public supper except on Halloween.

Both squashes and pumpkins make good squash and pumpkin pies, but that's not the point. You don't make one form the other. Many's the time the pumpkin and squash pies have been mixed up on the pie table at a Grange supper, and the pie chairman would cut them in wedges one after the other and nobody knew which he was getting.

The waitress would say, ''Poonka or squash?'' and then set either her left-hand or right-hand piece in front of you.

If you asked, ''Is this pumpkin?'' she'd say, ''Didn't you want pumpkin?''

If you didn't want pumpkin, she'd swap for the other piece and say, ''The customer is always right!''

I believe rigidly in the steadfast integrity of the Yankee woman, and I believe dispensing pumpkin and squash pie accurately from the same pie plate without a single instance of duplicity and guile is a point in her favor. Ask her for pumpkin and you always get one or the other.

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