November 3, 2005

Lessons From Charlie Brown

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“I’ve learned there are three things you don’t discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus, from the “Great Pumpkin” episode.

Linus is right. In this article, you will not find a discussion of the recent abortion protest on Ho Plaza or the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Courts. I will save that task to the Sun’s editorial contributors. But the Great Pumpkin – why can’t I write about the Great Pumpkin? And why does Linus deem the pumpkin to be “great,” in the same category of reverence as religion and politics?

True, the pumpkin is unavoidable this time of year, as clothing stores, grocery stores and outdoor markets focus on this orange monstrosity. Even the Cornell clock tower has morphed into an incandescent jack o’lantern. But the pumpkin is an odd fruit. Pumpkins, watermelons and squash fall under the same family of plants, yet the pumpkin has become a centerpiece in American culture. Each year from the end of October until the end of December, America paints itself orange: we carve faces, illuminate and display these fruits proudly in definition of “the holiday spirit.”

But just think for a moment about the pumpkin’s genetic heritage: could you imagine carving a watermelon or creating a centerpiece out of a cucumber? Of course not! Unlike watermelons and cucumbers, pumpkins originate from North America. European immigrants brought to America the ritual of carving gourds and turnips. The combination of the native pumpkin and the transplanted European ritual resulted in the use of pumpkins, as we know it today. I know, you might have been expecting a more scientific or historical explanation, but in America, bigger always has been better. The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed over 1000 lbs; the largest turnip ever grown weighed 35 lbs – it is little wonder that Americans ditched the turnip in favor of the pumpkin when it came to making an impressive jack o’lantern.

Pumpkin carving is a great outlet for creativity and for family bonding. A room can go crazy when pumpkin guts are spilled, as seeds are flung around before turning the hollowed squash into a ghastly, disembodied head. Linus, the worshipper of the Great Pumpkin was certainly shocked as he witnessed its mutilation: “Ooh, I didn’t know you were going to kill it!”

Pumpkin carving is too meticulous and messy of a process for this food-lover; eating them is a more enjoyable event. The smooth texture of the pumpkin when cooked, rivals that of the butternut squash; yet the unique, complex flavor of the pumpkin lends itself to more satisfying dishes. One of the more popular preparations of the pumpkin in this country is in the form of pumpkin pie, particularly around Thanksgiving time. However, many people dislike pumpkin pie, either because of the texture or because of the crust. Fear not! There are countless other preparations of pumpkin that you can try in Ithaca:

Pumpkin Bread
You don’t have to go far to find satisfying pumpkin bread – it is located conveniently at any coffee kiosk on-campus! Kudos to Cornell Dining for offering a moist, thick slice of heaven!

Pumpkin Ravioli
If you go to ZaZa’s Cucina and order this dish, be prepared to surrender your heart to the earthy, complex flavor of pumpkin filling against perfectly al dente pasta.

Pumpkin Ice Cream
Once again, Cornell satisfies the sweet tooth of the student population with this unique taste of fall. The cinnamon-splashed ice cream carries a rich, smooth texture and contrasts with the crunchy pecans.

Pumpkin Oddities
Collegetown Bagels and Ithaca Bakery are hotbeds of pumpkin product originality. Try the pumpkin bagel toasted with cinnamon raisin cream cheese for an afternoon snack, or delve into the creamy pumpkin bar for a taste bud sensation.

With all of the pumpkin treats, paraphernalia and decorations in season, it’s impossible to avoid catching pumpkin fever. Why fret about politics and other tribulations when there are so many happy pumpkin vibes floating around the country?

You know, for a little kid, Linus was pretty wise – the Great Pumpkin has the power to bring friends, families and a country together to carve, feast and celebrate.

Archived article by Anna Fishman
Sun Staff Writer