Perhaps you’ve been sitting around this fall season with a mind full of wonder about the history of pumpkins. After all, pretty much everywhere you look you can see pumpkins this time of year. You can find them in grocery stores, on greeting cards, and out in the country at your local “pumpkin patch near me”, as you might be so inclined to search online. The country most likely produces enough pumpkin spice syrup to fill Lake Michigan. Kids go crazy for pumpkin carving, as do many adults, even if they don’t have kids!
It is not a new phenomenon, either. Later, we will take a look at the early history of pumpkins, in addition to teaching our readers how they can grow large pumpkins just like the ones that can be found at our pumpkin patch in Illinois. But we digress on that for now. The point is that pumpkins are integral to this time of year.
Certainly, the color of pumpkins has a lot to do with our affinity for connecting them to autumn. As the leaves change and we see the colors of growth turn to the colors of change and agedness, pumpkins reflect the “circle of life” element of the four seasons. It could also be said that pumpkins are so important to us because of pumpkin pies. This is somewhat subjective, but there is a reason why nearly every American family has one at their Thanksgiving Day dessert table year after year – pumpkin pies are delicious. So perhaps it’s some combination thereof.
Suffice it to say, keep reading if you are interested in the origin of pumpkins, learning how pumpkins vary in size and appearance, you want to learn about pumpkins in American pop culture, and you want a little history lesson on the origins of pumpkin patches specifically. But before we get into all of that, allow us a brief word about Bengtson’s Pumpkin Festival, our own Illinois pumpkin patch here in Homer Glen.
Bengtson’s Pumpkin Patch
Our pumpkin festival, located just a short 45 minute drive from Chicago, is one of the very top pumpkin farms in the entire midwest, and perhaps beyond. Why? For starters, our URL is pretty much as awesome and authoritative on the matter as it gets (pumpkinfarm.com). If that doesn’t instill confidence in anyone looking for a near Chicago pumpkin patch or pumpkin farm, we aren’t sure what will.
Next, we’ve been in existence for 37 years now, which is something we are very proud of. Each year, we try to add to the experience in some way, shape, or form. This year we are happy to tell our readers that we have 8 unlimited rides, with a few new ones along with them. We have a great lineup of kiddie rides, older kid rides (like our Pumpkin Chucker and our 90’ Mega Fun Slide), and other fall festival activities and foods. Among these eats and treats is a host of unique food options, including Rogue Curbside Kitchen, Fresh Apple Cider Donuts, Wooden Paddle Pizza, El Taco Cocina, Toasty Cheese Food Truck, and some usual carnival food suspects like roasted sweet corn, kettle corn, funnel cakes, cotton candy, and much more at our food truck.
While we are talking about it, we should tell you that October 30th is the last day we will be open this year. It’s always over too soon in our estimation, so don’t be in the camp where you are waiting around a full calendar year to experience one of the top local pumpkin patches around! You can view our hours and rates to determine which day would be best for your family to visit!
Now that we’ve successfully been allowed a brief word (or two) about our pumpkin festival, let’s get back to the topic at hand, pumpkins.
Origins Of Pumpkins
Pumpkins are a member of the squash family, which are round, smooth, and most commonly with ribbed skin. Pumpkins actually have their origins in North America, with the oldest historical evidence dating all the way back to 7000 B.C. in Mexico, according to some sources. The name “pumpkin” itself is Greek in origin, coming from the word “pepon” which means “large melon”. The French decided to change that name to “pompon”, or perhaps that was just their best attempt at saying “pepon”. The English, being English, couldn’t stand saying it the same way that the French did, so they ended up changing “pompon’ to “pumpion”. Eventually, pumpion became pumpkin, probably in the same way that “com-fort-able” became “comft-erble” in the modern, casual vernacular of the USA.
But let’s not pretend that the French or English were the first to discover pumpkins. Native Americans had been utilizing the nutritional benefits of pumpkins long before American explorers and settlers came to the shores of the western hemisphere. Some natives would employ pumpkins for other uses. One practical example is when they would dry strips of pumpkin and weave them into mats. Settlers saw the uses and benefits and quickly added them as part of their own culture, with the ultimate culmination coming in the form of the pumpkin spice latte, obviously.
That last part isn’t true, obviously. But it does point to the fact that for a brief season, pumpkin flavor and scent is in everything, from beers, milk, pop-tarts, pringles, teas, and beyond. Many other cultures consume pumpkins the year-round, but we reserve it only for autumn. But why? We’ve conjectured a bit ourselves, so let’s look at what a professor of American studies, Cindy Ott, has to say on the matter.
Ott, the author of a recent book titled Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon, says it has to do less with the specifics and more about the feeling. Pumpkins are “botanically indistinguishable from other types of squash, so it has more to do with the image of the pumpkin itself. “It’s a vegetable that represents this idyllic farm life, and the best sort of moral virtue. And Americans have become attached to that,” she says. As pumpkin farmers ourselves, that observation resonates with us.
But pumpkins weren’t always an icon of celebration. Before the 19th century, pumpkins were used when there were few other options. “Pumpkin beer was used when there was no barley. [If] there was no wheat for bread, they used pumpkin [for] bread,” she says. “Pumpkin was considered food of desperate [times].”
As the people of America largely moved away from poverty toward financial security, pumpkins did not diminish. Many people moved to more urban areas in the 19th century, and with that came a reminiscence for times past. Said Ott, “People became stressed about… moving into the office and off the farms, and [the pumpkin] starts to appear in poems and in paintings,” she says. “We’re celebrating the nostalgia for this old fashioned, rural way of life, that no one ever really wanted to stay on, but everyone’s always been romantic about.”
So as has been confirmed by an authority on the matter, the pumpkin is a metaphor, in terms of longing for times past. In a way, it represents our history as farmers, as people connected to the land as much as each other. At Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farms, we think that is a beautiful thing. We are happy to be able to continue this tradition of celebrating our people’s history by hosting our annual pumpkin patch in Homer Glen.
How To Grow A Perfect Pumpkin
Now that we’ve established a little bit of context about American pumpkin history, pop culture, and pumpkins, let’s take some time to discuss how one should go about growing a large, perfect, plump pumpkin.
There are myriad of varieties of cucurbits, among which are pumpkins and other winter squash. Some are big, some are small. The largest pumpkin on record was an astounding 1689 pounds! But how do you grow pumpkins to get so big? While we’ve never grown anything that size, we do know that the right environment is key to growing oversized pumpkins.
First, you need to find a sunny place for your pumpkin patch. Pumpkins are sensitive enough to the point where you need to worry about wind and cold affecting them. Be sure to cover your pumpkins if the wind, snow, or rain is forecasted to come down. Conversely, you’ll need to cover them from extreme heat. Consider putting up some shade for them if it gets uncomfortably hot.
Next, pumpkins need to be planted in soil that isn’t typically wet, muddy, or particularly dense. At the same time, pumpkins need a lot of water, so they must be attended to with consistent care. When preparing the soil for a pumpkin patch, you’ll need to dig it well to loosen up the soil, but you won’t need to use a tractor, as pumpkin roots stay closer to the surface than most other plants. You’ll need to prep and plant in early spring, whenever the ground gets somewhat warm. If you can get some, use old cow manure as fertilizer, laying down around four inches. This is done to add an element of acidity to the soil, which will help the pumpkins develop.
Plant your seeds in a small, four-inch pot a few weeks before you plan on placing them outside in your pumpkin patch. You’ll need some grow mix which you can pick up at any greenhouse, and make sure that you never let your soil dry out.
Male And Female
Pumpkins begin to appear, both male and female, right around the fourth of July. You’ll see the male pumpkins appear first, with the females not far behind. Before the female pumpkins appear, the vines will need to be strong enough to support the female flower’s new fruit. How do you tell the difference between a male and a female pumpkin? That’s not too tough, all you have to do is look for a baby pumpkin at the base of every flower.
It’s Time To Fertilize
The pumpkin farmer is actually a key component to the fertilization process. You’ll need to find a healthy, ample-sized vine which can support the growth of a new pumpkin. Find a strong vine and a female flower that is just about to bloom while taking a cheesecloth to cover it overnight. This will keep any insects away from your selected female flower. Find a male bloom the next morning, snipping off the corolla (outer petals), and take the stamen, covered in pollen, in your hand. Rub it around the central part of the female bloom, making sure it is open.
The Pumpkin Grows
If you are attempting to grow a massive pumpkin, you should realize that the entire vine is working toward that same goal. All of the water and sunlight received by the leaves and roots are being dedicated to the single pumpkin. But if you are successful in growing a huge pumpkin, you need to be careful about it detaching from the stem because of its abnormal girth. It might tear away from the ground and vine, whereby the growing is finished and dying ensues. We don’t want that. You can avoid this unpleasant experience by gently tearing out roots which are nearby the pumpkin, giving it some room to grow but remain connected to the vine. You’ll need to make sure that the vine does not become damaged by the plump pumpkin. Once your pumpkin is the size of a softball, go ahead and remove any other pumpkins in that particular vine, so that all energy can be directed to the prize pumpkin.
Make sure you water it frequently, and watch it as it grows as big as can be!
Visit Our Near Chicago Pumpkin Patch!
If you aren’t interested in starting your own pumpkin patch, we’ve got you covered at our own pumpkin farm here at Bengtson’s. We’ve got all kinds of pumpkins – big ones, little ones, weird ones, white ones, and even pie pumpkins. Moderately priced at just 39 cents per pound, you can buy them under the central building called “Exit/Pumpkin Sales”. While you are picking out your prize, we’ll provide you with a wheelbarrow for just a buck. We also have white pumpkins for only 50 cents per pound. White pumpkins provide a nice change of pace from the traditional orange, and when displayed in tandem with the typical orange pumpkins, white pumpkins are a thing of beauty. We even have a wide selection of pumpkin carving supplies, so you are sure to be set up with everything you need to have a fantastic Halloween this coming year.
If you are interested in coming to Bengtson’s this year, remember that our last day being open is the day before Halloween, on October 30th! We would love if you were able to come out to see us this year as many families do. You just might make it an annual family tradition like so many of our kind reviewers point out.
Diane R. is testament to that fact, as she points out in her five star review on Google. “My family and I have been here 2 years in a row this is going to be our 3rd year. We are making this our family tradition. The kids love it and us adults love seeing the smiles on our kid’s faces. This year is going to be better since there is a roller coaster the kids can not wait for us to go. Plus (we) love that we get a wonderful family picture when we go, since this year we have two new family members to add to this year’s picture. Absolutely love this place and prices are very reasonable.”
Why don’t you take Diane’s advice and come on out to our Homer Glen pumpkin festival? You won’t be disappointed!