New Hampshire Tidbits: The Geddes’ Great Pumpkin and Other Really Big Fruit

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “We fancy men are individuals; so are pumpkins; but every pumpkin in the field goes through every point of pumpkin history.”

His words are the truth.  Starting from a pumpkin seed, every pumpkin plant grows into a pumpkin sprout. As the sprout matures, the yellow flowers turn into small green pumpkins. These miniature fruit grow and turn orange. This all happens 90-120 days after planting.

Pumpkins, like other squash are believed to be native to North America.  The indigenous peoples harvested pumpkin, dried it, made candy of it, and enjoyed its marvelous, orange pulpiness.   All of this came to mind recently when one of New Hampshire’s own, Stephen Geddes of Boscawen grew “the largest pumpkin ever recorded in the United States.”

According to the local newspapers the “Geddes Great Pumpkin” weighs 2,528 pounds and he won $6,000 as a prize for his first place pumpkin at the Deerfield Fair. The Great Pumpkin Commonweath, reportedly the official ‘body’ with an inside view of big orange fruit, says that Stephen’s pumpkin is the largest one ever grown in North America. Even so, it is not big enough to take the world record away from Mathias Willemijns of Belgium with a gargantuan pepon of 2,624 pounds.

‘Great Pumpkin’ contests started long before Snoopy and the ‘Peanuts’ cartoons (1959) and the Guinness World Record book (1955).  Based on the weights of pumpkins in the old newspaper stories, as time passed farmers seemed to be able to grow larger and more mountainous-sized orange gourds.

1837: In November of 1837 the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics reported on a “Mammoth Pumpkin,” shown at the Horticultural exhibition in Philadelphia PA. It was grown by John Wetherell, Esq. of Chalkey Hills (sic, Chalk Hills) and weighed 237 pounds, measuring 8 feet 6 inches in diameter.

1860: By November of 1860 the same newspaper reported on the Paris, France “King of the Pumpkins” designation. The ‘King’ being a hefty 315-1/3 pounds and measuring 10 feet 2 inches in circumference at the widest part. It was purchased at auction for $25.

1985:  Fast forward 125 years. In 1985 the Springfield Union, Springfield MA proudly announced that a young Connecticut man named Scott Cully won the World Pumpkin Weighoff with a 515 pound gourd.

2004: The world record for the largest pumpkin used to be 1,446 pounds set in October 2004 in Canada. A New Hampshire man had grown the largest pumpkin ever weighed, 1,458 pounds, but it was not recognized as a world record because it was damaged by a hole in the cavity.

Today:  You would have to grow a pumpkin in the 2,525 to 2,526 pound range to be in the running for recognition.  The pumpkin bar has been raised.

On 17 October 1868, the Mirror and Farmer newspaper of Manchester, New Hampshire published the following story, all about pumpkins:

The pumpkin is the largest of known fruits, if fruit it can be called. Big, portly, globular and yellow, it lies on the September fields like a burning sun shot madly from its sphere.

What would the story of Cinderella be without that famous pumpkin which so kindly changed into a gorgeous coach, at the bidding of the fairy god-mother? The beasts of the field love to batten on the cheery pumpkin. So does the palate of mankind love to batten on the pumpkin pie. There is a species of pumpkin pudding of recent invention that hath its merits. It is in reality a sort of pumpkin custard.

In Paris lives or lived an old American lady who made fortune by introducing to the French metropolis the great American institution of pumpkin pie. Her shop was a favorite haunt with all American visitors at Paris.

Is there a more pleasant sight than a wagon-load of big, ripe pumpkins on a bright September morning on a rural, maple-shaded lane? There is. It is the sight of shelves in the larder of a country farm house, laden with pumpkin pies and things.

Stolen fruits tastes sweetest–especially stolen pumpkin pies. Every country lad knows this. Washington Irving pressed the pumpkin into the service of literature. In his legend of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane is scared by a hollow pumpkin with a candle inside of it, and holes for the eyes and mouth, as the head of phantom manufactured for Ichabod’s express benefit.

“Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater, had a wife and couldn’t keep her,” is one of those great popular expressions wrung out of the experience of the past generations. As a conjugal warning it is especially timely at this era of the high prices of all kinds of edibles.

There is no word in the English language that has a wider difference of signification than pumpkin. To call a man “pumpkin head” is to assert his blundering stupidity; while to aver that he is “some pumpkins” is to do just the opposite. Why should the word in one instance be a slur, and in the other a compliment? Globular, gorgeous and gay, the pumpkin is one of the agricultural products of this country. It is cultivated nowhere else to the extend that it is here.

There is an old story in rhyme, of a philosopher who, lying under an oak tree, called Providence to account for the seeming inconsistency of putting acorns on big trees, while the lordly pumpkin grovels on the ground. Just then an acorn fell hitting him in his eye; and he reflected that had it been a pumpkin, it might have crushed his head in. So he was hopefully converted.”
[end of newspaper article]

I’ll close my story with a pumpkin joke.  (Bet you’ve never heard this one).
Q: When asked how he was feeling, what did the pumpkin say?
A: I’m vine, thanks for asking.

[Editor’s note: various copyright free clip-art and old postcards used in this story].

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4 Responses to New Hampshire Tidbits: The Geddes’ Great Pumpkin and Other Really Big Fruit

  1. Amy says:

    Having just helped my grandsons with carving and decorating their jack o’lanterns, I very much enjoyed this post!

  2. I greatly enjoyed the pumpkin post, particularly the 1868 newspaper article. I think we should bring back the compliment, He’s some pumpkins!

  3. Michael says:

    Loved this festive piece. Now what does one do with a 2,000+ pound pumpkin? I wonder if it makes good eating. Pies for days!

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