Driving through our little town in late fall, still a bit love-struck for Tuscany’s charm, I began to see my hometown through new eyes. We don’t have medieval hilltop towns, but we do have bucolic seasonal decor and we are not afraid to use it. “Look,” I cried to my family, “we live in Pleasantville.” They were forced to agree. Every store window had its own cheerful autumnal arrangement to celebrate the season. The lamp posts on Main Street had corn shocks tied around them with bright orange ribbons. The police station had a scarecrow out front.
Yard art is an earnest form of self-expression here. Autumn, with its blended undertones of “joyful harvest” and “Trick-or-Treat kitsch,” brings out the best and worst on the front lawns: colorful displays of chrysanthemums and gourds. A large round hay bale with someone’s legs hanging out of its middle. (A pair of jeans and boots stuffed with newspaper, I can only hope; we’ll call it a farm safety reminder.) One common theme runs through all these dioramas, and that is the venerable pumpkin. They were lined up in rows, burnished and proud and conspicuous, the big brass buttons on the uniform of our village. On the drive home from our morning’s errands we even passed a pumpkin field where an old man and a younger one worked together to harvest their crop, passing up the orange globes and stacking them on the truck bed to haul to market. We’d driven right into a Norman Rockwell painting.
Every dog has its day, and even the lowly squash finally gets its month. We may revile zucchini in July, but in October we crown its portly orange cousin the King Cucurbit and Doorstop Supreme. In Italy I had nursed a growing dread that my own country’s food lore had gone over entirely to the cellophane side. Now my heart was buoyed. Here was an actual, healthy, native North American vegetable, non shrink-wrapped, locally grown and in season, sitting in state on everybody’s porch.
The little devil on my shoulder whispered, “Oh yeah? You think people actually know it’s edible?”
The angel on the other shoulder declared “Yeah” (too smugly for an angel, probably), the very next morning. For I opened our local paper to the food section and found a colorful two-page spread under the headline “Pumpkin Possibilities.” Pumpkin Curry Soup, Pumpkin Satay! The food writer urged us to think past pie and really dig into this vitamin-rich vegetable. I was excited. We’d grown three kinds of pumpkins that were now lodged in our root cellar and piled on the back steps. I was planning a special meal for a family gathering on the weekend. I turned a page to find the recipes.
As I looked them over, Devil turned to Angel and kicked butt. Every single recipe started with the same ingredient: “1 can (15 oz) pumpkin.”