Pumpkin King – A Farmer Of Giants

It’s that time of year. Just before we turn back the clocks, the weather turns colder. The apples taste crispier. And farming the great squash, pumpkin, transforms into a competitive extreme sport of sumo pumpkin against pumpkin. The job of the farmer and pumpkin grower turns into Cinderella’s ‘coach’.

Others simply stand by and watch in amazement as the next mighty pumpkin tips the scales — 900 pounds, 1,000 pounds, 1,500 pounds, more!

Pumpkin King, Howard Dill

Pumpkin King, Howard Dill

Dairyman Howard Dill was the grand master of the pumpkin, regularly beating out competitors at growing the world’s largest pumpkin. He held onto his crown from 1979 – 1982. He’s even patented his giant pumpkin seeds, called Atlantic giant hybrid, and wrote his autobiography, The Pumpkin King. For his contributions to the competitive sport of giant pumpkin growing, Dill, who lived in Windsor, Nova Scotia,  won a spot in the World Pumpkin Confederation’s (WPC) Hall of Fame.

The first champion giant pumpkin grower was William Warnock, of Ontario, Canada, who entered a 400-pound pumpkin at the World’s Fair in 1900. Since then, pumpkins have hit the 800-pound mark, some bruisers putting on 10 to 15 pounds a day. (When Howard Dill sent a 616-pound pumpkin to the United States for a competition, customs officials, skeptical that such a large crate could contain one pumpkin, called the drug squad.)

For Dill, winning world championship competitions brought more substantial rewards as well. He won $11,500 from a California restaurant that wanted to display the squash, and $3,000 from the World Pumpkin Confederation. The confederation, located in Collins, New York, has 3,000 members in 30 countries, including Japan, Australia, and Zimbabwe. Quite simply, editorialized the pumpkin growers’ journal, Esprit de Corps, Howard is part and parcel of our raison d’etre.”

Growing the next giant pumpkin takes steely commitment and a competitive edge; the globes must come off. As Elizabeth Royte reported about  Pumpkin v. Pumpkin in Outside magazine:

“Giant pumpkins are nursed on a rarefied diet of manure, composted vegetable matter, and vast quantities of water. For plants that seem to advertise their own robustness, giant pumpkins can be astonishingly fragile. If exposed to the summer sun, their skin burns and blisters. If they go thirsty, they wilt. Neglect to remove a stone from the soil under the fruit, and you lose five pounds as the pumpkin grows around it. A thumbnail dent can cost several ounces.”

Christy Harp, a 27 year old mathematics teacher from Jackson Township, Ohio has just set a 2009 record of this extreme sport, and possibly a new Guinness World Record,  with her 1,725 pound “Atlantic Giant” pumpkin grown from seeds. Harp took first place at the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers annual weigh-off Saturday in Canfield, Ohio as sanctioned by the equally competitive Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC).

The Daily News reported that Harp has been growing pumpkins since she was in the eighth grade, yet seemed to be spurred on by the competition with her husband, to be the best in the pumpkin patch.

Peanuts' Linus Waiting for the Great Pumpkin

Peanuts' Linus Waiting for the Great Pumpkin

Soon all eyes will currently be peeled for the sighting of the Great Pumpkin.

In the meantime, KEEP THE SEEDS – to eat! The recipe for success follows.

Separate the fresh pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin fibers, and spread them on a baking sheet to dry overnight.  Drizzle them with a little olive oil and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the seeds have lightly browned. Pat with paper towels, sprinkle with coarse salt, or with curry or chili powder or grated Parmesan cheese and a touch of paprika.