I left the splendor of fall in New England, and the terror of winter in Upstate New York some 20+ years ago—to thaw out in Florida. I live just north of Orlando, where the perennial landscaping is lovely, and the green grass, leafy trees and blue skies do wonders for your mental health come January and February.
But the fall, falls short.
Ever since my kids were toddlers, we took them to the Sanlando Methodist Church Pumpkin Patch. In the early years we propped them up like turnips on hay bails in front of wooden barn facades. This setup made for great photos. Fake fall or not, those turnips were adorable and so were the pictures.
The tradition was a good one, Sunday breakfast at First Watch, pumpkin photos before the crowds ran rampant and while the light was still golden, returning home with a pumpkin for carving. Since it’s Florida, we had to plan this trip strategically close to Halloween, or the pumpkin would be rotten and squishy long before Trick-or-Treat.
Such is fall in Florida, hot, hot, hot, and potentially hotter. I’ll never forget the year my daughter dressed up as Winnie the Pooh and toddled the neighborhood with sweat running down her face. So much fur.
Over the years the kids got bigger, grew taller, and became less interested in pumpkins…let alone posing for photos amongst them. Creative costumes gave way to canvasing for candy with just a pillow case amongst a gaggle of pre-teenage friends. Somehow we still managed to lure them to the Pumpkin Patch for 10 minutes on a Sunday morning with the promise of pancakes, snapping a few very low key photos along the way.
Time flies… everyone tells you this about raising kids, but you have to experience it yourself to be in the know.
Sometimes family traditions need to mutate and change into something different, yet similar as time marches on. This year my sweaty little Winnie The Pooh went away to college. My son is now almost 17 and has come out the other side of his pre-teenage years (no more pillow case canvasing). He asked me “Mom, are we going to get a pumpkin and go to breakfast?” Music to my ears. “Really? I thought you’d never ask.” I smiled.
We moved, he and I, just around the corner from the Patch. We could have walked there, but we would have worked up a sweat. I grabbed the camera, Connor grabbed his girlfriend, and we jumped in the car. Things change.
Old and New
So, our old traditions serve as a foundation for the new. The kids were happy to let me take photos of them together in the Pumpkin Patch. My son stood next to and exceeded the growing tree height chart by over a foot. He was even willing to pose for a selfie with me. Nikita helped us pick out a pumpkin that she thought would be good for carving, making sure it did not already have squishy spots.
I took photos of some of the old set ups we used to use as photo back drops, focusing in on the fake chrysanthemums and phony farm fences. The fall scenes and pumpkins made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside—or maybe it was the 88º that did it.
Carving the Pumpkin
The kids asked me to draw the face, but they were ready to do the carving. Connor picked the pumpkin head design from Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. We bought a new set of carving tools at the Pumpkin Patch to make it an easier job than with the traditional kitchen knife and ice cream scoop. Gutting the pumpkin was the best part, we saved the seeds to salt and roast as we have always done since I was a kid in the kitchen with my mother.
Popping the big eye chunks out of the pumpkin made me think of pie. “I should make a pumpkin pie!” I thought out loud. “With this pumpkin?” Connor asked. “Well no, I’m not that adventurous anymore.” I explained. “I actually did make a pie from fresh pumpkin one year, and to be honest it was really no better than the Libby.” I added. “So, how about it? will you eat a pumpkin pie?” My son of course was on board but Nikita looked at me and said “I’ve never had pumpkin pie.” Well, that may sound strange to you but her mom is from England, and they of course don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. As a matter of fact, when I lived in England and made pumpkin pie for my friends, they looked at me and said, “Yank, why do Americans want to make pies out of squash?”
Traditional Squash Pie
“Well Nikita, you are in for a treat.” The kids were enjoying carving the pumpkin as I whipped together some pie crust in the Kitchen Aid. If you have never had tried your hand at making pie crust from scratch, it’s really not all that difficult (easy as pie?). Check out my blog post on apple pie for a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own crust. Simply substitute the apple filling with your basic pumpkin pie recipe and you are good to go.
The Jack-o-lantern came out awesome, I have to say that they did an amazing job. It was really fun to watch Connor and Nikita work together on a project. New traditions, for the kids and for me. Change can be good if you open your heart and mind and take comfort in the idea that what’s new is always rooted in whats old. Someday my turnip will have his own Pumpkin Patch experience, it will be different, but it will stand upon the traditions of his childhood. Like building blocks, or Legos.
We didn’t have a candle on hand, so I sent the kids to the grocery store. “And while you are there, maybe pick up some whip cream?” I asked. “Oh yes Nikita, if you are going to have pumpkin pie for the first time, you MUST have whip cream.” Connor added, and off they went.
Pumpkin Pie Patience
I made the crust, filled the shell, and cut fall leaf shapes to put on top. Fall leaf shapes, leaves of trees that don’t even exist in Florida. Kind of funny, is it because I’m from New England, or does everyone associate fall with maple leaves, oak leaves, acorns, and other flora that may not even grow where they live? We are faking fall in Florida, and doing a pretty good job of it.
Fake it ‘till you make it.
As the pumpkin baked, I light my Yankee Pumpkin Spice Candle to add to the ambiance. Another New England tradition, I grew up a few towns away from the Yankee Candle world headquarters in South Deerfield, MA. Yes, the Mother Ship, that image you see on the wall in your local mall store.
Connor wanted to eat the pie as soon as it came out of the oven. I told him he had to be patient, it needed to cool. Tap, tap, tap, he was excited to dig in and share this new experience with his girl. It never did reach room temperature, we ate it warm. The whip cream melted over the crust cut fall leaves and dripped down the sides of that light brown spiced filling. All eyes were on Nikita. “Do you like it, do you like it?” In fact, she did. Nikita said it was really good, and that made me smile. Connor asked me what was in the filling, I rattled off the spice mixture and the other ingredients. “Pretty simple, really.” I replied.
“Cinnamon? there’s cinnamon in here?” Nikita asked. “I’m allergic to cinnamon.” Oh my. “Not really bad, just an itchy swelling feeling in my throat.” She kept on eating. “STOP! I don’t feel like resuscitating you, even though I am qualified as a certified life guard.” Connor laughed.
Nikita kept eating. “But this is so good….”
Perhaps next year our new tradition will be pumpkin pie with a blend of spices that excludes cinnamon.
Here Come the Holidays
The kids went to Nikita’s parent’s house to hand out candy. Me and the dogs handed out fun sized chocolate to the few kids that came by. Our Jack-o-lantern illuminated the front doorstep. In between answering the doorbell, I worked on a new painting that I set up on my easel earlier in the day.
As I painted, I started thinking about (and looking forward to) a visit from my Pooh Bear over the Christmas break. Connor and I will put up a real tree, as soon as we return from a St. Hilaire family Thanksgiving in the Berkshires.
I had better dig out a sweater.
Thank you for being
a part of my