Waste Not

 

 

 

Wait! Don’t throw that Halloween pumpkin in the trash! There are any number of ways to keep that pumpkin out of a landfill and instead put it to good use. Before putting it to good use, however, it’s a good idea to clean up any wax or decorative bits from the pumpkin, restoring it to a state of pumpkin grace in nature, the way it had grown peacefully in some farmer’s field all summer before it became a holiday symbol for a few brief autumn days.

Happy tidyman

Compost your pumpkin! If you can’t compost it yourself, give it to someone who can. If your pumpkin is still wholesomely edible, you can of course eat it, or give it to some person or creature who will. An animal sanctuary operating on a skimpy budget dependent on the kindness of members of the community will almost certainly welcome the donation of edible pumpkins, free of any toxic byproducts, as a treat for the animals under their guardianship. Don’t forget to save the seeds when hollowing out a pumpkin prior to using it as a decoration: either eat the seeds yourself, or set them out for the birds (don’t salt the seeds if they’re meant for the birds).

Golden Guernsey goats eat pumpkin
A pair of Golden Guernsey goats eating a pumpkin in November 2011. Photo by Flickr user Rebecca. If these goats could talk, they might bleat a “Thank you!”

 

You will do a good deed by turning a symbol of the fall harvest, which has unfortunately also become a symbol of enormous food waste, into a positive boon for someone or some creature in some way, at least for a few days. Better than putting it in a landfill, where it will help no one. In two months it will be time to consider how to keep Christmas trees out of the landfill, and that will be a little trickier because hardly anyone wants to eat them, although goats might nibble the more tender parts.
— Izzy

 

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Candy Is Dandy

 

The title of this post is taken from the Ogden Nash poem “Reflections on Ice-Breaking”. Mr. Nash was writing about parties for adults, and he concluded the poem with the lines “But liquor/Is quicker.” For children at Halloween, the first lines about candy are the only ones that matter. After a bout of shepherding their children around the neighborhood for trick or treating, parents are more apt to grasp the last lines.

 

The association of candy with Halloween is relatively recent, and is wholly artificial in origin. Candy makers and sellers gravitated toward the holiday in the early twentieth century as a way to increase sales in the long lull between Easter and Christmas, and by the post World War II era modern Halloween traditions were pretty firmly in place. Children still might get some healthier treats like fruit in their treat bags or baskets, but after numerous tampering scares factory wrapped candies became the predominant treat, much to the relief of children everywhere.

Friandises
Friandises, the French term for goodies. Photo from French Wikipedia by Ficelle.

Because of ongoing fears about tampering and because of related worries over children interacting with strangers, the Halloween trick or treat excursions of mid and late twentieth century America have most likely peaked and are now on the wane, probably to the relief of parents everywhere. People don’t know their neighbors as well as they used to, and the whole ritual has become an unnecessary risk. Children still enjoy dressing up in costumes, and of course the idea of an enormous haul of candy still exerts a sirens’ pull on them. Like Christmas and its excesses, Halloween has become a time for parents to set and teach limits, if they are inclined. It’s difficult to do when the greater society constantly tugs in the other direction.

While the children are celebrating with restraint, willingly or not, their parents might take a moment to remember the candies they enjoyed as children. One candy, Necco wafers, may be no more after this year. The company that made them and other treats shut down earlier in the year, and its unclear whether the new owners will continue production of any of them. The New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) had been in business since 1901, after consolidating the operations of two other candy companies. Its flagship candy, Necco wafers, had been in production since before the Civil War.

That’s Charlie Brown in the sheet with too many holes, and Lucy in the witch costume, in the 1966 television special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Like a lot of candies, candy corn for instance, Necco wafers arouse strong feelings either for or against them. Perhaps it’s because our opinions about candies are mostly formed in childhood that we develop lifelong allegiances or antipathies to them. The parents who affectionately remember candies their children find revolting may be likewise turned off by all the gummies and other newly popular treats. Though he likely didn’t have Halloween in mind when he wrote “Reflections on Ice-Breaking”, Ogden Nash managed to put it all in perspective anyway, and in only seven words.
— Izzy

 

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Long Live the Monarch

 

The Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, may not seem to have any connection to Halloween other than its orange and black coloration, but in Mexico, where they overwinter, the butterflies are hailed as the spirits of friends and relatives who have died in the past year and are returning at the time of Halloween for one last visit with the living. The important dates for Mexicans, and indeed for many Hispanic peoples, are October 31st, and November 1st and 2nd, known as The Days of the Dead, or Los Dias de los Muertos in Spanish.

From the 1955 film The Night of the Hunter, Robert Mitchum as a murderous and greedy self-anointed preacher sings “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”, while Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper protects the children inside her house from harm.

Before the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples believed Monarch butterflies were returning human spirits. After the Spaniards imposed Catholicism throughout the region, the Native Americans transposed some of their ancient beliefs onto the new religion. In the case of the Monarch butterflies, since their annual migration brought them to their winter home in the mountains of Mexico more or less at the end of October and the beginning of November, it was a simple matter for Native Americans to meld their traditional celebration of the dead and honoring of the return of the butterflies at that time of year with the Christian holidays of All Saints’ Eve (Hallow e’en, or evening) on October 31st, All Saints’ Day on November 1st, and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd.


This mixing of indigenous traditions with Christian beliefs and holidays follows a pattern seen in Christian communities throughout the world. In Ireland, for instance, where the version of Halloween celebrations started in a way that most Americans would recognize, the Christian holidays were overlaid on existing Celtic harvest festivals and honoring of the dead. It seems in the northern hemisphere at least, where the harvest occurs approximately in September, October, and November, that honoring the dead at the same time was commonplace. People prayed to their honored dead for a good harvest, and when the work was done they often symbolically shared the bounty with their dear departed at altars in the home. It was a short step for the Church to substitute, or merely add, saints and martyrs to the list of honored dead.

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Overwintering Monarch butterflies in November 2005. Photo by Samuel from Toluca, Mexico.

Monarch butterflies, meanwhile, have troubles beyond being Halloween symbols for human beings. Habitat loss, pesticides, and destruction of food sources have all led to a general decline in their numbers over the last few decades. They are not yet under the protection of the Endangered Species List, and they may not be anytime soon given the hostility toward environmental protection of the current presidential administration.

The ending of the 2010 version of True Grit, a film by Joel and Ethan Coen, with Iris DeMent singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”.

It is more important than ever, therefore, for individuals to do everything they can to assure the continued survival of Monarch butterflies, rather than relying on governmental entities to take the lead. It’s not hard; the butterflies don’t ask for much. Leave some tall weeds standing at the edge of a property rather than mowing absolutely everything down to half inch high grass. Among those tall weeds, plant or encourage some milkweeds as fodder for the caterpillars, and some wildflowers as nectar sources for the adult butterflies. Stop using pesticides and herbicides, at least the general purpose ones that kill all insects or all vegetation. Pay attention, be observant and respectful, and in the end enjoy what you have helped along in a way you could not possibly enjoy yet more grass or asphalt. The spirits are watching.
― Vita

 

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O Great Pumpkin

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Pumpkin vines in flower.
Photo by H. Zell.

Few fruits or vegetables have as much lore associated with them as the pumpkin. To begin with, is it a fruit or a vegetable? Botanically it is a fruit, because the part we use and eat develops from a flower and contains seeds. Vegetables come from the leaves, stems, buds, and roots of plants. For cooks and the eaters who enjoy the fruits of their labors, however, a pumpkin is to all practical purposes a vegetable.

The nursery rhyme “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater,” like many nursery rhymes seems nonsensical at first, and perhaps to young ears and minds it is best left that way because upon delving into its meaning there is darkness at the core, which may or may not yield life lessons, depending on individual interpretation. Charles Schulz’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, is more enjoyable for young and old alike, with more accessible life lessons. The 1966 TV special is, at 50, still a favorite for holiday viewing and is a masterwork of the animator Bill Melendez.


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Pumpkin flower with bees. Photo by H. Zell.

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Ripe pumpkin on the vine. Photo by H. Zell.

Jack O’Lanterns started in Ireland with the carving of turnips, potatoes, and beets long before people there were aware of pumpkins. Pumpkins are native to the Western Hemisphere, as are potatoes, but the introduction of potatoes to Ireland made a much bigger impression because of their culinary usefulness and ease of growth and storage. The subsequent ubiquity of the potato in Irish fields would have devastating consequences when a blight affected the crop for several years in the mid-nineteenth century, giving rise to the Potato Famine. Using pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns did not catch on until the wave of Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine came to the United States and found the pumpkin most suitable to the purpose.

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A display of pumpkins for sale at Halloween.

John Quidor - The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane - Google Art Project
The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, a painting by John Quidor.

The variety of pumpkin most often grown for decorative carving is the ‘Howden,’ developed by Massachusetts farmer John Howden in the 1960s. The pumpkin filling sold in cans for making pumpkin pie is often made from squash varieties which, while belonging to the same genus as pumpkin, Cucurbita, are not from the species we recognize as pumpkin.

One more bit of lore has given us this common image of the pumpkin, and especially its association with spooky autumn nights, and it comes from Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The original story is a bit unclear on whether the Headless Horseman carries around his own head or a pumpkin as a sort of substitute head, but at any rate the version most people are familiar with today and are probably most comfortable with comes from the 1949 Walt Disney short film. As with the Walt Disney version of Cinderella (where a pumpkin also makes an appearance, as Cinderella’s stagecoach), which was taken from a rather dark fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm, story events become more pleasant and less threatening than in the original. Put another way, the treats are nicer and the tricks less scary, or scarry, if you will.
– Izzy

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