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The winner of this year’s Pumpkin Weigh-Off at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. This gourd weighs 2,560 pounds. Photo by Igor Porton/Miramar Events
The winner of this year’s Pumpkin Weigh-Off at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. This gourd weighs 2,560 pounds. Photo by Igor Porton/Miramar Events
Columns Jano's Garden

Great pumpkins

I would not have believed it, but when I lived in Upstate New York, I witnessed an 800-pound pumpkin being pulled by a flat-bed trailer down Main Street in Cooperstown. It changed my mind about giant pumpkins forever.

The pumpkins were on their way to a giant scale, where they would be hoisted off trucks for the weigh-in, with many of the winners topping 800 pounds and bringing thousands of dollars in prize money and notoriety for their growers.

Many midsize pumpkins would be carved at the end of the day with a giant well in the center so that small children could be seated in them, and race to the finish in the Cooperstown Giant Pumpkin Regatta. So, the answer to the question, “Do pumpkins float?” is, “Yes!”

You see, in a truly agricultural area such as Cooperstown, farmers will stop at nothing to attract visitors, and the annual Cooperstown Annual Fall Pumpkin Contest has always attracted thousands of people.

MELLANO FARM STAND FALL FESTIVAL

Here in North County, it is not as easy to grow giant pumpkins. “With the exceptionally warm weather, and not much rain, our pumpkins are not quite as orange as last year,” says Michelle Mellano Castellano, one of the granddaughters of the family behind the Mellano Farm Stand in Oceanside. “Sometimes it takes a bit of cooler weather for the pumpkins to change color. But there are still plenty to choose from” at the 2nd annual Fall Festival at Mellano Farms.

The family grows all their own pumpkins, vegetables and flowers and plans fun-filled weekends for the entire family each Saturday and Sunday in October.

“We love to have families hop on a tractor and ride out to the pumpkin patch where they can choose their favorite pumpkin to take home and decorate,” Michelle says. “This year we will also have music, food trucks, a corn maze and craft vendors.”

The farm is open Thursday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with festival celebrations on Saturday and Sunday. The farm is located at 5750 River Road in Oceanside. There is no fee for activities or parking.

The pumpkin patch is open for the Harvest Festival at Mellano Farm Stand in Oceanside, Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Photo by Jano Nightingale
The pumpkin patch is open for the Harvest Festival at Mellano Farm Stand in Oceanside, Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Photo by Jano Nightingale

WEST COAST GIANT PUMPKINS

If you are traveling farther north on Oct. 15 and 16, it will be well worth the trip to visit the 50th Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival.

In years past the winners of the pumpkin competition took home $30,000 in prizes in the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off. (Festival details at pumpkinfest.miramarevents.com.)

The top four winners of the pumpkin weigh-off, held Oct. 10, will be on display, and Master Pumpkin Carver Farmer Mike will demonstrate how to carve a mid-pumpkin as he has for 30 years.

The Safeway Festival will feature four stages filled with local entertainment and the food will be, of course, all about pumpkins! Pumpkin cakes, muffins, milkshakes and yes, even pumpkin beer.

Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, Full Swing Moon Bay IPA and Golden Road Mango Cart will please a beer lover’s palette. Pumpkin carving activities for all ages will take place on Sunday, as well as an art show featuring local California artists.

COOK UP YOUR PUMPKIN AT HOME

We are well aware of the sad amount of pumpkin that is thrown away in stores the day after Halloween or simply left to disintegrate on a front porch.

Why not pick up some smaller pumpkins (known as “pie pumpkins”) when you are shopping for decorative ones.

There are numerous websites with recipes for pumpkin pies, cake, muffins and more, but here is a great idea from the Pioneer Woman (thepioneerwoman.com), that simplifies cooking and pureeing small pumpkins, to be used in cooking or frozen for later.

PUMPKIN PUREE

from The Pioneer Woman

Ingredients:

1 whole (3 lb.) Sugar or Pie Pumpkin

Directions:

— Preheat oven to 375ºF.

— Wash the pumpkin to remove any dirt from the outside. Trim off the stem, then cut the pumpkin in half through the top.

— Use a melon baller to remove all the seeds and stringiness from the center of each pumpkin half.

— Place the pumpkin halves cut-side down onto a baking sheet and roast for about 45 minutes, until the skin is dark and puckered. Flip the pumpkin halves over. The pumpkin should be very soft.

— Scoop all the pumpkin out of the skin with a spoon, then transfer to a food processor. Puree for about 30 seconds until completely smooth. Now the pumpkin puree is ready to use.

— Storage: Pumpkin puree will keep in the fridge for 5 days, and can be frozen.

If you have a Halloween event or favorite pumpkin recipe, send it to me at [email protected].

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist and Master Gardener and teaches classes at the Carlsbad Senior Center and other venues. Contact her at [email protected] for more information.

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