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A well-known plant and its fruit, the Curcubita pepo; a pompion. — Webster, 1882

A load of pumpkins went begging on our streets one day this week. Our lovers of the pumpkin pie must be scarce indeed. -De Smet Leader, October 1, 1887.

Almanzo’s Pumpkin Wins the Blue Ribbon. In Farmer Boy (see Chapter 21, “County Fair”), Almanzo enters his large milk-fed pumpkin in the county fair, and he wins first prize. Did this really happen? In the book, Almanzo celebrates his ninth birthday in Chapter 5 and Christmas that same year in described in Chapter 26. So the fair in question should be the one held when Almanzo is nine, or in 1866. According to the Malone Palladium, the Franklin County Fair was held October 2-4 in 1866, and George W. Child won the $1 premium for exhibition of the best pumpkin. In fact, there is no newspaper account for any year the Wilders lived in Franklin County that indicate that any of the Wilder children (or their parents) ever won the first place award of any kind. It’s still a nice story, a good lesson, and it has no doubt encouraged children for decades to give competition (and farming) a try, even if you’re a bit apprehensive, as Almanzo was.



Then in the chill, early morning he tied a pouch full of pumpkin seeds around his waist and went to the cornfield… At every second hill of corn, in every second row, Almanzo knelt down and took a thin, flat pumpkin seed between his thumb and finger. He pushed the seed, sharp point down, into the ground… Day after day he worked, till all the pumpkins were planted. -Farmer Boy, Chapter 15, “Cold Snap”

Planting Pumpkins in the Dark of the Moon in May. The dark of the moon is traditionally the last three days of the 29-day lunar cycle, immediately preceding the New Moon, the time when the sky is absent the presence of the visible Moon (except, of course, during a solar eclipse). After these three dark nights, the crescent Moon will be in view. If – as it was written in Farmer Boy – Almanzo stayed out of school at the dark of the moon in May when he was nine years old, the year was 1866, and the New Moon was on May 14.

Farmers have long relied on the lunar calendar to determine the best times for planting, harvesting, and pruning various crops, believing that plants respond to the same gravitational pull of tides that affect the oceans, which alternately stimulate root or leaf growth. Many almanacs, gardening books, calendars and websites are devoted to gardening by the moon. In 1866, few would have questioned Almanzo’s desire to plant pumpkins during the dark of the moon.

Traditionally, not only corn and pumpkins, but pole beans were planted to grow together. Corn was planted first, and when the stalks were about 18 inches tall, both pole beans and pumpkins were planted in the now-warm soil. Beans climbed the corn stalks, and both corn and beans shaded the pumpkins growing below, yet they died back in time to let sunlight reach the maturing pumpkins. [originally posted in 2010]

How to Grow Pumpkins. Pumpkins (genus Cucurbita) need warm weather to grow, and should be sown indoors in colder climates or outdoors after any danger of frost has passed. If you grow them with Halloween decorations in mind, plant before July 1, as both gigantic pumpkins and miniature varieties need 3 to 4 months to reach mature size. The plants need full sun and prefer sandy, loose soil with plenty of organic matter. Plant where there’s plenty of room for them to send out their vines. Pumpkins are heavy feeders and need lots of water and fertilizer.



Pumpkin Pap. (Stewed Pumpkin.) I take a good ripe pumpkin, cut it into strips about an inch thick– cut off the rind, pare out the inside, and cut up in pieces about an inch square. Then, after having them washed in clean water, I throw them into my dinner pot with water enough to pass over them, and boil till done. Take them off the fire and mash them fine, put in a good sized tablespoonful of salt to a common sized pumpkin, and mix up a large tea-cup full of wheat flour with sweet milk enough to reduce it to the consistency of thick cream. Stir it in with the pumpkin, hang it over the fire, and let it simmer about 15 or 20 minutes. While it is thus boiling, fry a small handful of crumbs of bread, with a lump of butter about the size of a hen’s egg, till brown. Stir it in with the pumpkin, and it is ready to be served on the table. — Elizabeth Diehl in The Cultivator IX (January 1852), 56.

Stewed Pumpkin. Deep-colored pumpkins are generally the best. Cut a pumpkin in half, take out the seeds, then cut it up in thick slices, pare the outside and cut again in small pieces. Put it into a large pot or sauce-pan, with a very little water; let it cook slowly until tender. Now set the pot on the back of the stove, where it will not burn, and cook slowly, stirring often until the moisture is dried out and the pumpkin looks dark and red. It requires cooking a long time, at least half a day, to have it dark and rich. When cool, press through a colander. — Fanny Lemira Gillette, White House Cook Book: A Selection of Choice Recipes (Chicago: R.S. Peale & Co., 1887), 298.

Drying Pumpkin. Those who are fond of pumpkin pies will be interested in what an exchange says about the mode of drying them for winter use. We have tried all modes of drying; but no plan is equal, we think, to this: Take the ripe pumpkins, pare, cut into small pieces, stew soft, mash and strain through a colander, as if for making pies. Spread this pulp on plates in layers not quite an inch thick; dry it down in the stove oven, kept at so low a temperature as not to scorch it. In about a day it will become dry and crisp. The sheets thus made can be stored away in a dry place, and they are always ready for use for pies or sauce. Soak the piece over night in a little mil, and it will return to nice pulp, as delicious as a fresh pumpkin – we think much more so. the quick drying after cooking prevents any portion from slightly souring, as is always the case when the uncooked pieces are dried; the flavor is much better preserved, and the after cooking is saved. — Lake Preston (Dakota Territory) Times, October 27, 1881.

Pumpkin Pie (Like Mother Makes). One quart milk, three cups of boiled and strained pumpkin, one and one-half cups brown sugar, one-half cup molasses, the yolks and whites of three eggs beaten separately, a little salt, one level teaspoon each of ginger and cinnamon. Enough for three pies. — Kitchen Echoes: Tried and Approved Recipes from Ladies of De Smet, compiled by the Aid Society of the First M.E. Church of De Smet, South Dakota (De Smet: The News Job Office, 1909), 59.

Pumpkin Pie. Two cups pumpkin, three-fourths cup brown sugar, three eggs, two tablespoons molasses, one tablespoon melted butter, one tablespoon ginger, one teaspoon cinnamon, two cups milk, a little salt. — Fanny Lark in Cream City Cook Book, Compiled by Aid Society, Congregational Church (De Smet: De Smet News, 1904).

Delicious Pumpkin Pie. Cut a pumpkin into thin slices, and boil until tender in as little water as possible, watching carefully that it does not scorch; set the stew-kettle on top of stove, mash the pumpkin fine, heaping it against the sides of the kettle so that the water may drain from it and dry away; repeat this process until the water has all evaporated, and the pumpkin is quite dry. This will require from half an hour to an hour. Mash and rub through a sieve, adding, while warm, a good-sized lump of butter; to every quart of pumpkin, after it is mashed, add two quarts of milk and six eggs, the yolks and whites beaten separately, sugar to taste, one tea-spoon salt, table-spoon ground cinnamon, one grated nutmeg, tea-spoon ginger; bake in a hot oven until well set and nice brown. It is as well to heat the batter scalding hot, stirring constantly until it is poured into the pie-dishes. — Mrs. Governor Irwin of California in Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping edited by Estelle Woods Wilcox (Minneapolis: Buckeye Publishing Co., 1877), 191-192.

Pumpkin Pie. Stew the pumpkin dry, and make it like squash pie, only season rather higher. In the country, where this real yankee pie is prepared in perfection, ginger is almost always used with other spices. There too, part cream instead of milk, is mixed with the pumpkin, which gives it a richer flavor. Roll the paste rather thicker than for fruit pies, as there is only one crust. if the pie is large and deep it will require to bake an hour in a brisk oven. — Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, The Good Housekeeper, or The Way to Live Well and to Be Well While We Live (Boston: Weeks, Jordan & Company, 1839), 71.

Green Pumpkin Pie. Choose a green pumpkin, just showing the first yellow streaks. Cook until tender and rub through colander. To each quart of pulp, add three-fourths cup of sugar, mixed with one tablespoon flour, one tablespoon butter, three tablespoons vinegar, one teaspoon cinnamon and a little allspice. Add one beaten egg. Bake between two crusts at 450 degrees for ten minutes and at 350 degrees for thirty-five minutes. It tastes like green apple pie. — Mrs. Orrin Simmons in Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois), November 13, 1941, 12. This recipe was submitted the year after The Long Winter was published; wouldn’t it be interesting to know if Mrs. Simmons read the Little House books?


pumpkin (BW 1, 12; FB 2, 15, 17, 19-21, 29, 25; TLW 3; LTP 7, 19; THGY 24; PG)
     Almanzo’s pumpkin wins blue ribbon (FB 21)
     green pumpkin pie / substitute for apples in pie (TLW 3)
     milk-fed (FB 17, 20)
     molding stewed pumpkin into shapes BW 1; FB 22
     pie (BW 8, 12; FB 2, 8, 20-21, 26, 29; LTP 19; PG)
     planting in dark of the moon (FB 15)
     seeds (BW 12; FB 15, 21)
     stewed (BW 12; FB 2; LTP 19)