Califonia Bountiful

Symbol of the season

Revered since the days of the Pilgrims, today pumpkins are a favorite of kids and adults of all ages.

As the months go by, there are certain fruits and vegetables that are beacons of a new season approaching and this time of year, that beacon is definitely the pumpkin.

Revered since the days of the Pilgrims, today pumpkins are a favorite of kids and adults of all ages--all looking for the perfect one. And these days, there are more reasons than ever to celebrate this hallowed gourd all season long.

The motto in Half Moon Bay is, "If you grow it, they will come." That's exactly what hundreds of people do every year at the annual Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Weigh Off and Festival.

"Pumpkins to San Mateo County are an incredible economic engine," said Jack Olsen, executive manager of the San Mateo County Farm Bureau. "We have the greatest concentration of pumpkin fields in a close proximity to the Bay Area. That allows people to enjoy agritourism, which is one of the fastest growing economic sectors today."

Farmers from throughout the West bring their gigantic gourds to the event in hopes that their time spent caring for their pumpkins all year long would be well worth the wait. And spectators, both small and large, come to the coastal town to get a look at some of the biggest gourds in the land.

In the end, the winning pumpkin weighed in at more than 1,500 pounds. Another big winner on this day was local legend and pumpkin pioneer, Farmer John Muller. His 814-pound pumpkin was the biggest ever grown in San Mateo County.

"We men don't deliver but it was like giving birth to a baby," he said. "I'm sure you wanna cry. It is emotional. An 800-pound pumpkin is a lotta pumpkin!"

Right off Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay, is where the Great Pumpkin lives. At least it does at Farmer John's 12-acre farm. Since 1947, this has been a family-run farm, with flowers being the main bulk of the business until 12 years ago, when John and his wife Eda thought it would be good to grow pumpkins so that children and their families could experience a real pumpkin farm and actually see how and where they grew.

Today, commercial growers in the Half Moon Bay area grow about 3,000 tons of pumpkins annually. The coastal climate is perfect for pumpkins to thrive because they typically like warm daytime temperatures and cool nights.

Farmer John's pumpkins are more versatile than you may think. They are made into a variety of dishes at the nearby, elegant Navio restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, including pumpkin with tomato puree and pasta.

So however you use it, and whether it's a small, medium or even a giant one, this time of year, we all have our favorite pumpkin that now can be enjoyed all year long thanks to some creative farmers and chefs carving out their own niche in the pumpkin business.

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