Get thee to a pumpkin patch

As temperatures down South dip into the 40s and 50s, tasteful seasonal decorating requires at least one nice gourd on the front porch.

Carlton offers his little pumpkin
Carlton found the perfect sized pumpkin for him at Berry Patch Farms.

Some of you have been so eager for fall temperatures that you ran out and bought a pumpkin when they first arrived in stores or when the pumpkin patches first opened in late August or early September. Sadly, those early pumpkins are now rotten piles of mildew and orange goo or have long since been discarded.

When the air gets that hint of cool crispness, the first line of a poem by James Whitcomb Riley that I memorized in elementary school invades my mind: “When the frost is on the pumpkin…”

We haven’t had a frost yet, here in Atlanta, but now is the right time to get a pumpkin. If you still haven’t made your pumpkin purchase for this fall, here are few pointers to keep in mind:

1.) Pumpkin patches are fun. In my mind, the more authentic the pumpkin patch, the better, but we’ve seen everything from a random assortment of pumpkins laying out in a field to a church selling pumpkins from their front yard to the grocery store to Stone Mountain’s annual Pumpkin Fest where pumpkins are tucked in around the granite boulders. Pumpkin patches are usually accessorized by hayrides, corn mazes and an assortment of fall foods. To make things easier for you, I’ve found a website listing pumpkin patches throughout the Peach State.

Harris with a big pumpkin
Harris likes his pumpkins a little bit bigger.

2.) Purchase pumpkins where you buy your fruits and vegetables. At most of the pumpkin patches I’ve visited, you spend all your money doing the ancillary activities so that by the time you’re ready to pick out your pumpkin, you can’t really afford a nice gourd. Here’s a hint: you can buy the same size or larger at the grocery store for a fraction of the price of a pumpkin patch pumpkin. I apologize to all the pumpkin patch fundraisers out there, but I am duty bound to report this consumer fact to all of my loyal readers… well, both of my loyal readers.

3.) Pick a pumpkin that wasn’t picked in July. The firmer the pumpkin, the fresher the pumpkin. If it gives when you press on it, then it’s ready for the compost heap, not for carving. And if carving isn’t really what you had in mind, there are lots of varieties of guords that may meet your needs better. You can learn more at this site.

4.) Roast the seeds. In elementary school, I had a teacher who handed out roasted pumpkin seeds as rewards. Perhaps I have too much of a psychological investment in pumpkin as a result, but roasted pumpkin seeds are at least as good as sunflower seeds without all the spitting of hulls. We have trouble getting the process right and typically burn ours, but according the pumpkin recipe page, 225 degrees for an hour should do the trick.

Wallace family
Doesn’t the fall just bring out our family’s togetherness?

5.) Start a family tradition. You don’t have to sit in a pumpkin patch at midnight on Halloween to have a great time with gourds in the fall. Every element of the pumpkin process from the selection to the carving makes for great photos and even better memories.

Growing up, my family never really bothered with pumpkins, but Carla and I have purchased at least one pumpkin every year since we had kids. Some years were so busy that we didn’t bother to carve them, but having pumpkins is one of the highlights of our family’s fall activities.

Better get your pumpkin today. The pickins are getting pretty slim at the farms and patches. Pretty soon, all that will be left are the rotting, decaying or mishapen pumpkins, and no one wants a misfit pumpkin on their front porch.

Where do you get your  pumpkins? How many do you buy each year? Do you roast the seeds or try to use the entrails for pumpkin pie? Don’t hold back! Share all your pumpkin secrets by leaving a comment below.

Can I have a second helping of home décor?

I’ll eat just about anything you can put on a plate, but I won’t admire just any plate you can put on a wall.

Those plates must be historic. And Southern. And tell a story.

When my wife of 15 years and I were concocting our wedding registry, (OK, let me restate that more accurately: when my wife of 15 years was concocting her wedding registry) there was one item that popped up on the “must have” list I had never heard of.

“Honey, what’s a Georgia plate?”

That’s when I got that look. You married guys know the one. The look that says “Are you really so unrefined as to not know about Georgia plates?”

Louise Irwin
Louise Irwin, creator of the Georgia Plates, would be so proud of our living room wall.

It’s the same look, incidentally, that I received when I asked such questions as “Aren’t window treatments really just curtains?” and “What’s a toile?” and “Why do there need to be so many pillows?”

As it turns out these Georgia plates are so famous that practically everyone who ever attended a Transylvania Club of Sandersville meeting knows all about them.

What? You say you don’t know the story of Louise Irwin and the Transylvania Club of Sandersville? OK, well, maybe I don’t feel so bad.

You see, back in 1932, Mrs. Irwin latched onto the idea of creating a series of Wedgwood plates depicting scenes from Georgia’s history to sell as a fundraiser for the club. Clearly Mrs. Irwin envisioned that 80 years later suburban housewives would be assembling and reassembling them into artistic formations on their living room walls.

Nancy Hart on a pink Georgia Plate
Nancy Hart says to the Tories: “Don’t be bringin’ that Torie stuff into MY log cabin!”

These plates are actually pretty cool. My favorite is the one depicting Nancy Hart holding a bunch of Tories, whoever they are, at gunpoint. Nothing says “Georgia pride” like gun violence against men in wigs in pink Wedgwood.

I think we’ve eaten on these plates exactly one time. It was a special occasion, like Christmas or Easter, when it seemed appropriate to stare at James Edward Oglethorpe under a pile of mashed red potatoes infused with gorgonzola.

There is so much I don’t understand about home decorating, and I’m sure this essay only confirms my lack of sophistication and taste. I don’t know when it became a “thing” to put plates on walls, but ever since our wedding guests happily complied with my wife’s dreams of owning the entire collection, we’ve had Georgia plates on our walls.

Georgia Plates
A very symmetrical and orderly display of Georgia’s history in Wedgwood plate form on my living room wall. Ain’t I sophisticated?

I do think they add something to our home, though, in a weird museum kind of way. In good light and at the right distance, I can actually read them. And if I take one down, I can flip it over on the back and have marvelous dinner party conversation starters: “Did you know that in 1734 Oglethorpe traveled to London to present the Creek Indian chief Tomochichi to the Colony’s Trustees? Yes, well, they were accompanied by John Musgrove and his wife, Mary, who had served as the interpreter for Tomochichi and Oglethorpe. Can you pass the asparagus?”

Hmmm … maybe I’m beginning to understand why we don’t have many dinner party guests.

What I do think these plates say about the New South is that there is still an appreciation of history. In the Old South, there was a devotion to tradition. In the New South, we like old stuff to remind us we have roots, a foundation upon which we can innovate, but we aren’t held captive to it. Touches of the old accentuate the new in our lives reminding us that as much as society changes, we still have a narrative that unites us as Georgians and Southerners.

So, go ahead and put those Georgia plates on the walls. The Sandersville public library will benefit from the proceeds, and before you know it, there will be another day on the calendar appropriate for using them to eat, like Leap Day or Guy Fawkes Day.

What place do plates have in your decorating? Do you use dinnerware in your décor? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below, and happy eating/decorating!