Monday, October 27, 2008

The Great Pumpkin Search

When I first arrived here in Australia 8 years ago, there were very little signs of anything Halloween related. At the time, I wasn't that fussed about it. I always enjoyed Halloween as a child, but it wasn't something I missed terribly being away from the USA. Even so, I'd watch with interest each year as Australians would shun or shyly celebrate the holiday that most consider to have a clearly American connotation. This can be good or bad depending on who you ask. Nevertheless, I've watched Halloween slowly, ever so slowly, grow in popularity each year.

My personal interest in celebrating Halloween was rekindled about four years ago with the birth of my first child. I decided that although I am raising my children in Australia, I want them to understand the traditions of my youth and my home country. I didn't like the idea of visiting the USA one October when my kids were older and have them freaking out about the idea of Halloween. I could just hear them saying, "Mum, how could you have kept this from us? All these free lollies? Dressing up in cool costumes?". Or perhaps they wouldn't be upset at all, but I didn't want to take the chance. Halloween is for kids and I wanted my kids to enjoy it and experience it as much as they could living in Australia.

One of my favourite aspects of Halloween from my youth was the carving of the jack-o-lantern. I remember going to the grocery store with my Mom and helping her to pick out the pumpkin. We'd then take it home and keep it until a few days before Halloween. When the time came to carve it, my siblings and I would gather around the kitchen table and my Mom would ask us each to give design suggestions. We'd argue amongst ourselves whether that year's pumpkin should have a goofy expression or a scary one. Should it have eyebrows or teeth or be more simplistic? Once we'd settled on the design, one of us would draw it on the pumpkin and our Mom would carve it out for us. We'd often scoop the seeds out and put them in the oven to toast them to be enjoyed later.

For my daughter's first Halloween (she'd have been about 8 months old) I decided the best way to celebrate would be to carve a pumpkin and put up a few decorations around the house. We looked around for some of the orange pumpkins we use to make jack-o-lanterns in the USA, but could never find any. My brother-in-law brought us a Queensland Blue pumpkin that was the right shape, but the wrong colour. It has a grey like colour about it and the flesh of the pumpkin on the inside is very dense. Carving this thing was a nightmare. We needed an extremely sharp knife and plenty of muscle--the Handsome Australian struggled for quite awhile, but in the end he managed to conquer the beast. We stuck a candle in it and put it on our front door step. We had no trick-or-treaters that year and I'm not sure anyone even saw our jack-o-lantern and if they did they mightn't have known what it was for.

The following year, I found some proper orange pumpkins in a fruit and vegetable shop in the suburb of Bentleigh. Centre Road, Bentleigh used to be home to a Halloween trick-or-treat organised by an American Expatriate who was a local shop owner. So it made sense that this fruit and veg shop could sell these pumpkins. Hundreds of American Expats would turn up each year for the trick-or-treat and would pass through the fruit and veg shop and buy the pumpkins. We bought two of these pumpkins and brought them home. When it came time to carve them, I noticed each of them had a sticker that read, "Not to be consumed. For decorative purposes only." What? I mean I hadn't planned on consuming them, but I might have toasted the seeds. So I started wondering why exactly couldn't you consume them? In what type of environment had they been grown? Where did they even come from? I never got the answers to any of these questions, but I certainly didn't consume any of those pumpkins. They made good jack-o-lanterns though and more importantly, I knew where to source these pumpkins going forward.

Last year, I went back to visit this same fruit and veg shop in Bentleigh and was disappointed to find that they didn't have any of the orange pumpkins this year. I even asked at a few other fruit and veg shops and someone indicated that they usually do get some, but there were none around this year. So disappointing. So I was back to the Queensland Blue once again. I taught my neighbours how to carve pumpkins that year--I'm not sure they enjoyed it as much as they might have had we been able to source some of the orange pumpkins. Those Queensland Blues are really, really hard work.

This year, I was resigned to the fact that the Queensland Blue would be kicking my jack-o-lantern carving arse (that's Aussie for ass) once again. Then on Saturday, something miraculous happened. I walked into the large fruit and veg shop where I do my weekly shopping and along the back wall I saw them. Sitting on a shelf under a sign that read, Halloween Pumpkins, were four very healthy looking orange pumpkins. My little Expat heart skipped a beat! Wow! Real orange pumpkins where I least expected to find them. I raced straight to the back of the shop with the intention of grabbing two of them before anyone else could get their hands on them. You probably won't be surprised to hear that absolutely no one else in the store was vaguely interested in these pumpkins. My paranoia about missing out was needless. I had a quick study of the four pumpkins and chose the two that I felt had the nicest shape, the fewest marks or bumps and I marched right up to the till to pay. I did take a momentary glance at the price when I was choosing the pumpkins, "Halloween Pumpkins $4/kilo". These pumpkins are mostly hollow inside and so I thought they'd weigh maybe 2 kilos each or something. (Please note: estimating the weight of things has never been a strong point).

When I got to the till, the little display screen was out of order so I couldn't see how much each of my items was being scanned for. I didn't care though, I was riding the wave of euphoria that comes when you stumble upon a sought after item where you'd least expect it. The girl behind the till was keen to know how you actually carved the jack-o-lantern. She's asking questions and I'm giving her a quick "How to" as she tells me the total and I hand over my credit card. The woman in the queue behind me overhears our conversation and asks me curiously, "So what are those exactly?" I explain that they are pumpkins for Halloween. We use this sort in the USA to make our jack-o-lanterns. I can never find them here. I'm so excited to have found them today. She congratulates me on my find and wishes me a good Halloween. I sign the credit card slip, grab my pumpkins and walk out the door.

The Handsome Australian is at a neighbouring cafe taming the little people while I do the shopping. I walk into the cafe--one large pumpkin under each arm and a smile plastered on my face.

Me: "Have a look at what I found right now! Real Halloween pumpkins! They were just there along the back wall. I can't believe they had any. How lucky am I?"

HA: "Wow. Those are really big. They look good too. You're really pleased with yourself aren't you?"

Me: "I am. I'm just really excited."

HA: "How much were they?"

Me: (glancing at the docket for the first time, jaw dropping, sweat appearing on the brow) "Perhaps it's better if we don't discuss that."

HA: "Why? How much were they? 10 bucks each or something?"

Me: (quickly coming down off my high) "Uh, no. They were a bit more than that apparently."

HA: "What do you mean apparently? Didn't you see the sign before you bought them?"

Me: "I did, they were $4/kilo. I thought they'd be about 2 kilos a piece or something."

HA: "No way, these are huge. They are more like 4 or 5 kilos, which means..."

Me: "Yes, okay, yes. I just paid $18 EACH for these pumpkins. I'm insane. I know. I was just so excited."

HA: "That's okay. It's once a year. Who cares. If it makes you happy that's the important thing."

Yep, that's why I love him. He doesn't care that I just spent $36 on two vegetables that I intend on carving up and displaying on our doorstep until they begin to rot. He's a good man that Handsome Australian.


KLS said...

I'm glad HA is supportive of your pumpkin-lovin' heart. I hope you'll post pictures of the finished products!

Scintilla said...

Well, they are out of season there so you may have paid for their plane ticket...

Your hubbie's a good sport.

suzinoz said...

KLS--Oh there will be pictures. These pumpkins may end up being the most photographed in history. At that price, I have to make the most of it don't I?

scintilla--He is a good sport. I'd like to know where the pumpkins come from. The signs here have to indicate if something is imported, but there was no mention of that on the sign. It's a mystery.

Annelise said...

I am dying to know why they could not be consumed. Will these forever be an unsolved mystery to me???
Honestly $18 is not that bad. Really, I wouldn't be surprised if they were more. And good job to the HA for being so sweet and supportive.

Paul said...

Our neighbour is from California and her children are a few years older than ours. They went out trick or treating each year and we naturally fell into step. Our kids picked up on it big time and got most of North Ringwood t'n't'ing. They're still doing it despite moving into their mid teens!

We only tried the jack-o-lantern once. Not knowing better, we used a Qld Blue and eventually gave up. It was just too hard. I never thought to quiz our neighbour on it - I just thought that it was some inane skill I just didn't possess.

Perhaps I see if the orange pumpkins are around and try again. Thanks for the tip.

suzinoz said...

Annelise--I love that you think $18 is not that bad. How much did I spend at Central Market that day? We must never speak of it again!!

Paul--I've always thought some of the outer suburbs were more into the trick-or-treating. I found the orange pumpkins not too far from you actually. They were at Get Fresh in Boronia Village, Boronia if you are keen to get one.

Dana said...

Good luck with the carving. I sort of thing the HA loves the challenge of the carving. Hopefully he will have some time to help this year.

Michelle said...

My sister-in-law just found your blog and forwarded it to me, as she knew that I have been searching for "good-old-American" pumpkins to carve for our upcoming Halloween party. I've been living here for 9 years now, and reading your blog made me sounds all too familiar! I now have a 3 year-old son, who has inspired me to ship Halloween decorations and order costumes from the States, and we're having 20 kids to our place for a traditional Halloween party at the end of the month. It's funny what lengths one will go to, when it comes to familarity, and sharing it with our children.

suzinoz said...

Thanks for stopping by Michelle. Sounds like we probably arrived here in Oz around the same time. I hope you can find some pumpkins for your Halloween party. Are you in Melbourne? They are becoming more and more common here each year, but are still expensive. =( My Mom sends us lots of goodies from the USA each year for Halloween too. Good luck with your party!