Several years ago we had a small function for the "House Warming" of our new house, "Gruhapravesha" as we call it. As I understand, in the Western countries it is held within 90 days of occupying a new house. In our area, it is just before the new house is put to actual use. The function is incomplete without a dish made of Pumpkin. I am not aware of the written rule, but there is an unwritten code making the use of Pumpkin mandatory. Of course, one of the cousins, the "Ash Gourd" or "Winter Melon" is a must for pooja in this function. A small one, of the size of a football to a big pot, is tied on the top of the front door or entrance of the building with the belief that it will dispel evil forces. Another Ash Gourd is opened with a small cut in the middle, filled with some coloring agents, and broken in front of the building for similar reasons. Both pumpkin cousins, sweet variety as well as Ash Gourd are used for preparing the festive meal.
A cook was hired for the occasion at our new house and he had arrived with two assistants. The junior assistant was a handsome young fellow and looked like he had a stint in the Garadimane, local gymnasium. He was assigned the work relating to washing and cutting vegetables besides other chores. There were not many houses in the area and the next four plots on the right side of the new house were vacant. A plot adjoining the new house was used as the cooking hall. When I went to the cooking place to see how things were shaping up, I found this young assistant break the big Pumpkin, make a ball out of the pulp with seeds not used for cooking, and hurl it across the vacant plots. The seed ball flew away and fell in the farthest site. He saw me and felt a little uncomfortable for what he had done. I told him he should enter the "Shot put" competition and he would surely win a prize. He laughed with the others and continued his work. The pumpkin dish was excellent as were the others and the matter ended there.
One year later we had another get together in the house and all children in the family had assembled at our house. There were nearly a dozen of them and started playing Cricket in the next plot. One of my nephews, again a strong young boy of sixteen years hit a six and the ball fell on the last vacant site. There was a wild growth of bushes there and the boys searched for the ball. They could not find the ball but the boy who hit the sixer came running to me shouting, "Uncle, there are huge Pumpkins there!" I wondered how the ball had become Pumpkins and went there with my brothers to see the wonder. To our surprise we found that there were seven huge Pumpkins which had grown from plants out of seed ball thrown by the assistant cook a year ago. We harvested the rich crop of seven big Pumpkins. For the next one week, it was Pumpkin festival in all homes of the relatives.
We had some small kitchen garden area behind our house. Seeds from a Pumpkin of this group were now deliberately planted and again gave a rich harvest. This continued for several years and the family of Pumpkins served our family very well. After some years we still had a pumpkin plant in the back yard and was ready to give a fresh crop. Three members of our family had gone abroad and were expected to return in the month of November. We wanted to keep the Pumpkins for them to taste and left three small ones in the plant and named them after the three persons scheduled to return so that each can be used on the day of their arrival. It appears that at times plants also understand our mind and thinking. The three Pumpkins grew handsomely and each attained different sizes matching in proportion to the three persons to arrive. In villages Pumpkins are known to be stolen, especially during the nights and there is a saying in Kannada, "Kumbalakayi kalla andare hegalu mutti noodikonda!", meaning that when someone mentioned of a Pumpkin thief, the other fellow checked his shoulders, for a big pumpkin can be carried on the shoulders only. We were anxious about these three Pumpkins being stolen and were checking their safety at regular intervals. Fortunately they were safe till the arrival of the threesome, on two different dates, and were shown to them in the plant and then used for cooking. The successive harvesting of Pumpkins continued for nearly ten years and stopped when we covered the entire area with cement concrete to avoid pests. Looking back now, that was one of the wrong decisions in our life which deprived us of free supply of Pumpkins in these hard days of inflation and depression.
There are many varieties of Pumpkins and the two main cousins, Sweet Pumpkin (refereed to as Pumpkin generally) and the Ash Gourd. A visit to the agriculture fields around Mysore in the end of September will give a beautiful view of thousands of Ash Gourds lying in the agricultural fields. The non-stop buses on the Bangalore-Mysore highway have a practice of stopping for a brief coffee break near Maddur. Whenever I traveled on this route during September, when others went for their coffee, I would go behind the hotel for a beautiful view of the Ash gourds. The crop would be harvested three days before "Mahanavami", when the demand peaks for "Ayudha Pooja". Ash Gourd "Majjige Huli" or "Moar Kolambu" is very popular. There is a hilarious scene in Puttanna Kanagal's movie, "Sharapanjara" in which the two characters played by Ashwath and Narasimharaju describe the Majjige Huli in "Mysore Maharaja's Vardhanti (Birthday festival)". An item called Sandige is also made from its bark. In North India, a sweet made from it called "Petha" is very popular, and the city of Taj Mahal, Agra being a place known for the Pethas.
Some vegetables are used when they are tender, some when they are medium ripe and some others when they are quite ripe. Pumpkin belongs to the last category. There is a saying in Sanskrit, "Kooshmandam (Pumpkin) komalam visham", meaning that tender pumpkins are equal to poison as it has an adverse effect on the health. In the days when refrigerators were not around, Pumpkins were the homemaker's dream vegetable as ripe Pumpkins can be kept for several months and could be used when other vegetables were not available. No household that breaks a Pumpkin would use it entirely, a part of it was always shared with the neighbours. May be because of the size and a full pumpkin not being needed for a day's cooking. "When I have I give you and when you have you give me", was the sound co-operation principle and took care of the storing problem. In rural areas, tender leaves of the Pumpkin creep is used for making curriers, but not tender Pumpkins. I also remember my mother giving us Pumpkin seeds fried and mixed with Menasinapudi, chilli powder mix.
Pumpkins are probably closest among vegetables to human beings, because they come in all sizes and nearly in all shapes. There is a variety called "Chittagumbala", the size of a cricket ball and very tasty, of course, depending on who has cooked. Ooty Pumpkins are also small in size. Pumpkins of various sizes can be seen in thousands when you drive around the countryside in USA, during Halloween times. Pumpkin festivals there have "Pumpkin pies"and sweets made of Pumpkins. In one of the festivals I have also seen a "Pumpkin pie eating competition"!
Pumpkins have also caught the imagination of poets and story tellers. Cinderella's chariot was made of Pumpkin. I have heard of a story about Destiny smiling on two quarreling friends in the form of a Pumpkin. There can be many such stories about Pumpkins. In rural India, whenever someone starts discussion with old anecdotes, someone else among the group would say, "Oh, he started his Kooshmanda Puraana"!. By the way, this is only the first adhyaya (first chapter) of Kooshmaanda Puraana.
Today a Pumpkin weighed in a contest in New York has measured 1818 Pounds or 825 Kilograms and earned the record for the heaviest Pumpkin in recorded history. It has also beaten the weight record of the heaviest man in the history held by Jon Bower Minnoch whose peak weight was a mere 1400 pounds or 635 kilograms. People like me can derive a lot of comfort from this fact; we are only a tenth of this Pumpkin's weight.
Bidding for the seeds of the "Great Pumpkins" is now on and you can compete and buy seeds of the two biggest Pumpkins - 1818.5 Pound Bryson and 1807.50 Pound Stelts. May be next season you can grow a 2000 Pound PUMPKIN. Not just 2 pound Pumpkins. If you want to grow the biggest pumpkin and earn a record visit bigpumpkins.com. Hurry, auction closes shortly!