When I was a kid going to the pumpkin patch usually meant driving a long way down West Sacramento Ave, taking a couple turns and arriving at a big pumpkin patch. Trails looped through what was probably about an acre of pumpkins. My mom and I usually walked all the trails searching for the best pumpkins. We always wanted at least one really big one, a small one, a narrow one and a good round one. If I remember correctly, we usually came home with about eight pumpkins. A couple days before Halloween, we would carve them. I remember lots of newspaper covering the table, lots of pumpkin guts being scooped out and constant complaining that the knives we were using were not ideal. When it was time to set out and light up our flock of jack-o-lanterns, Mom preferred the relative safety of a string of white Christmas lights to the fire hazard of small candles. She'd cut a hole in the back of each jack-o-lantern using an apple corer, we'd line the pumpkins up in front of the house, run an extension cord from who-knows-where and shove a Christmas light into each pumpkin.
Mom roasted the pumpkin seeds too, so that while we passed out candy to trick-or-treaters we could snack on salty roasted pumpkin seeds.
Nowadays it seems people are willing to drive a lot farther to pumpkin patches decked out with all kinds of extras: hayrides, bounces houses, pony rides, corn mazes. That's all fine with me; I suppose anything that gets consumers out to farms is (theoretically at least) making them more aware of where their food comes from. As a family we haven't made the trek to Bishops or Hawes yet, but I did take Grace to TJ Farms, which has a bounce house and a hayride. It was at the same farm that Grace went to Farm Camp at this summer, so, as we bounced around behind the tractor, it was fun to hear her tell about her time at farm camp. But we didn't buy any pumpkins there. We looked. And looked. But most of the pumpkins were one generic narrow shape and we didn't find any that we felt were worth the $5-$8 they were charging, so we spent our money on the hayride and bounce house instead. I promised Grace we would go to a different pumpkin patch with Daddy and Sister later in the month.
So last weekend we met a friend and her two kids at the Chico High FFA pumpkin patch. On the way there I told Grace that it was just a pumpkin patch, no rides, no bounce house, no frills, but that if she was well-behaved, and if we didn't find any good pumpkins, we could try a different pumpkin patch after lunch. She whined and complained; she earned a time-out and had to stay in the car when the rest of us got out.
Then we went looking for pumpkins. There are a lot of pumpkins there, and though one of the girls at the table said they only planted two varieties, there is a good variety of pumpkins. Big round ones, big narrow ones, medium round ones, medium narrow ones, warty ones, smooth ones, and little squatty ones the perfect size for a two year old to carry around for days on end.
All four kids enjoyed being towed out to the far end of the pumpkin patch in the wagon, those who were allowed to use the loppers to cut their pumpkin off the vine enjoyed that part too. All of us enjoyed poking through the field, turning pumpkins over, setting them upright and asking each other, "Is this what you want?" Forty-five minutes later our friends each had a pumpkin and our little family of four had five pumpkins for which we spent $13.50: a big round one for dad, an slightly bigger one for Grace, a tiny one for Abby, a small one to take to Grandma and a medium-sized round warty one for me.
As we loaded the pumpkins into the back of the car, Gracie was beaming. "Did you have fun?" I asked.
"Yeah, that was great! When do we get to carve them?"