They Really Do Make Everything Out of Pumpkin

It was probably about four thousand years ago that the indigenous arctic peoples of the Inuit, Aleut, and Yupik tribes began using the world’s first kayaks. These early small, versatile boats were covered in animal skins stretched over frames constructed from driftwood or whale bones or any other material that seemed like it might make a good kayak, which most likely did not include giant pumpkins.

At some point in human history, someone looked at this and said, “I bet I could make something like that out of a really big pumpkin.” Edward S. Curtis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The kayak didn’t become a recreational vehicle until much later when in 1866, English barrister and travel writer John MacGregor published his widely read A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe. In it he described the boat design he used to tour the rivers of Europe. Twenty-eight inches wide, fifteen feet long, and weighing around eighty pounds, MacGregor’s boat was made of oak and cedar and featured a rubber canvas over a cockpit. And it was also definitely not made of pumpkin.

Because no one would ever think that a pumpkin might make a good boat. Except that a couple of weeks ago on August 27, Duane Hansen, a sixty-year-old Nebraska man, hopped into a hollowed-out 846-pound pumpkin that he grew himself and floated thirty-eight miles down the Missouri River from just south of Omaha to Nebraska City.

The really weird part about this story is that Hansen’s journey nabbed him a Guinness World Record, smashing the previous record holder’s distance of a little more than twenty-five miles, meaning there was a previous world record to smash.

I think this one is actually crying out to be made into a kayak. Nick Ares, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The sport of pumpkin kayaking dates all the way back to 1996 and soon resulted in the Windsor Pumpkin Regatta in 1999, an annual event held in Windsor, Nova Scotia and originally founded by Danny Dill, the son of the pumpkin grower responsible for the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin.

Sadly, the event has been discontinued for now because of ongoing venue issues, but it has inspired similar regattas in Oregon, Maine, Utah, and a handful of other locations. Previously it has included three categories of races including motorized, paddled, and experimental kayaks, though I might argue the sport is young enough that one might still consider kayaking in a hollowed-out pumpkin a tad experimental, and plenty ridiculous.   

But the event, and the several like it, have attracted thousands of people each year occasionally including celebrities. Mind you, that’s not thousands of participants, because while there seems to be no shortage of people who think pumpkin kayaking is fun to watch, giant pumpkins in the required six- to eight-hundred-pound range aren’t always easy to come by.

That’s the reason it took Duane Hansen five years of dreaming big to finally achieve this gigantic, world record-breaking goal the day after his sixtieth birthday. It took him that long to manage to grow an Atlantic Giant large enough to make the journey.

I don’t think I’ll make it down the Missouri in this thing. Sigh. Maybe next year.

That accomplishment alone seems impressive to me, because I too am growing pumpkins, and they have turned out somewhat smaller than 846 pounds. And this is even more disappointing to me now that I know I could have been paddling a pumpkin down the Missouri River.

Granted, I didn’t plant Atlantic Giant Pumpkin seeds, but I did have a reasonable expectation that my pumpkins might at least be large enough to carve Jack-o-lanterns. Maybe I just need to take a page from Duane Hansen’s book and dream bigger.

The Art of Pumpkinization

Between the years of 1503 and 1508 in Touraine, France, artist Jean Bourdichon, at the direction of Anne of Brittany, two times queen of France, spent a lot of time sprinkling pumpkin spice in the queen’s prayers. What the queen recruited the artist to do was illustrate Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne, a book filled with prayers, monthly calendars, and religiously themed images.

walk in fear
Who doesn’t love pumpkin? photo credit: Geert Weggen walk in fear via photopin (license)

For the work, the artist focused on painting more than three hundred plant species represented in the Royal Gardens, one example of which may be the first known illustration of the pumpkin, a plant native to Mexico and transported to Europe after the first voyage of Columbus to the New World.

And what that means is that in the course of about sixteen years or so, this one plant, with its basketball fruit, went from unknown to worthy of royal attention half a world away. It’s probably not hard to imagine why.

pumpkin shelf
It’s possible my local grocery store has gone a tad overboard on the pumpkinization.

Pumpkins aren’t exactly hard to notice, and as anyone who has ever allowed a Halloween Jack-o-Lantern to decay in his garden could tell you, they’re certainly not hard to grow. Archaeologists have found evidence of pumpkins as a food source as far back as 7000 BC in Mexico and there is a long history in Native American cultures of using pumpkin seeds medicinally for treatment of parasitic infections and kidney disease. Today they are touted as a sleep aid, heart healthy snack, anti-inflammatory, and cancer-fighting super food.

 
I don’t know if all those claims can be substantiated. What I do know is that at least in the United States, it’s not fall until every product on the grocery store shelf has been pumpkinized (which I’m confident will soon be a word defined by Miriam-Webster).

pumpkinpeeps
Some products can’t be saved by any amount of pumpkin spice. But I imagine these aren’t any worse than traditional Peeps.

Each fall, stores are taken over by the pumpkin and its accompanying spices. No longer is pumpkin relegated to pies and prayer books, with the truly market-savvy adding more inventive (and often revolting) options each year, including: Pumpkin Spice Cheerios, Pumpkin Pie Kit-Kats, Pumpkin Pie Spice Pringles, Pumpkin Spice Chewing Gum, Pumpkin Spice Candy Corn (though to be fair, it is not the pumpkin spice that makes this product revolting), pumpkin spice pasta, liquors, yogurt, pudding, peanut butter, donuts, soaps, and shampoos. And every year I try an embarrassing number of these freshly pumpkinized products. Because everything is better with pumpkin, right?

So I think trend-setter Jean Bourdichon was on to something. He was bold enough to think outside the traditional religious artwork of his day and add to it the one thing that makes everything better. Or worse. But I suppose there’s no way to know until someone pumpkinizes it.