Having carved my fair share of pumpkins, the Great Jack O’Lantern Halloween Blaze, a month-long work of marketing genius run by Hudsonvalley.org., deserves applause. The four events run many times a day for twenty-eight days leading up to Halloween with four thousand visitors each day. Tickets are timed and sell out far in advance.
Amazingly, the events are tasteful, (not plastic, not Disney-esque). All ages show up (but if you aren’t keen on kids and/or strollers, steer clear.) Our first stop was at the Old Dutch Church across from Phillipsburg Manor where an actor in eighteenth century gear (ribboned ponytail, white stockings, tri-cornered hat) enacted Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, well-done but with too many contemporary inserts for my taste. (My less fussy friend pointed out that the genuine article would drive most of the audience batty.) When the hour was up we left the candlelit church to drive nine miles north to Van Cortland Manor for the Blaze. Click here for a video of the event- and excuse the music.
Misnamed, (The Blaze is not a fire– it’s acres of intricately carved pumpkins), nonetheless it’s pretty amazing. Some figures are made of many pumpkins attached, forming dinosaurs, tumbling acrobats, a huge sea serpent,
while others sit solo as in a field with cat-cutouts. Or course there’s the obligatory graveyard with creepy music.
Carving begins in June which means work on the Styrofoam backstops that underlay some displays. Over 10,000 pumpkins, all contracted from one happy farmer, are needed for the whole show as rotting gourds are replaced as needed and the display is enormous.
Brief digression on why pumpkin carving is associated with Halloween. Gourds and turnips were probably carved in Ireland and elsewhere in fall near the time we now celebrate the holiday. Irving himself did a lot to popularize pumpkin carving when he created Ichabod Crane’s ignominious end.
Walking along the (narrow, crowded) path you have to marvel at the carving skills displayed while envying the skilled craftspeople whose pumpkins come to them cleaned out and made ready by teams of volunteers. If you’re in the area next year, (or are a Halloween junkie), especially if you can round up some kids, check it out.
Now for a recipe. You didn’t expect filet of beef, I hope. This is Pumpkin Turkey Chili which sounds revolting but is really delicious. The weather is about to turn cold where I live (maybe has already done so where you are) and this is a perfect weekend meal.
Pumpkin Turkey Chili
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chilies
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 ounce) can red kidney beans
2 cups (1 14.5 ounce can) pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tablespoon cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper to taste (at least 3 good shakes)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (or not; I hate cilantro and always omit.)
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
Heat oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Sauté the onion, green bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, green chilies, and garlic until tender, about 10 minutes. Make room in the center of the skillet, add turkey, and brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans, and pumpkin. Season with chili powder, cumin, pepper, salt, and cayenne.
Reduce heat and simmer at least 20 minutes. If using, stir in cilantro. Serve topped with Cheddar cheese and sour cream if you like that approach; I prefer to put toppings in small dishes and pass.
Costume ready? Candy on hand for trick-or-treaters? Have fun.