Orange you glad?

Published 10:32 pm Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It’s hard to think of a food more suited to the time of year it’s associated with than the pumpkin.

Maybe it’s the traditional orange of the pumpkins we use for jack-o-lanterns that ties the pumpkin so closely to the season of color-changing leaves and earthy tones. To be sure, orange is the go-to color for every kid on the block looking to make the most frightening traditional Halloween porch display.

I remember wearing a jack-o-lantern costume one Halloween when I was very young. Since I was quite small at the time, my parents must have made it for me. As I recall, it was a generally spherical construct of chicken wire covered in orange crepe paper. I don’t recall there being a hat with a homemade stem, but I can’t imagine they’d have missed such an obvious and humiliating finishing touch.

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My grandmother lived in Portsmouth’s Cradock neighborhood at the time, and I very distinctly remember running down the sidewalk in front of her house, catching a toe on the concrete and taking a gourd-crushing spill. And that was the end of the pumpkin costume. Before I could reach even the end of the block, my mangled pumpkin suit made me look like I’d been hurled from a passing car by a teenager.

I think that year also marked the end of elaborate Halloween costumes. The next year, I was one of 4,298 little boys roaming the streets of Portsmouth dressed in a store-bought Superman costume. And since plastic was still pretty new back then, my wooden mask probably left splinters.

Since then, I’ve come to appreciate the true value of the pumpkin, which is perfectly captured in that culinary wonder, pumpkin pie. Now, THAT’S the way to treat a pumpkin. A slice of pumpkin pie with a scoop of whipped cream on top — that’s a dollop of fall served on a plate, if you ask me. It tastes just like dried leaves and cured fireplace logs would if those things tasted awesome, instead of yucky.

In retrospect, maybe it’s not the pumpkin I love so much as the orange-ness of the pumpkin. Researching for this column, I came across a long list of wonderful and life-sustaining foods that have the same glorious fall hue as the great pumpkin. Cheddar cheese, for instance. And carrots. And salmon. Cantaloupe. Butternut squash. Cheez-its. Mangos and papayas. Oh, and oranges.

The list goes on, but I would be remiss if I ignored the most important member of the orange food group — Crunchy Cheetos. Pumpkins are great for a front-porch still life, but one needs better materials to release the true inner artist, and the dust left on his fingers from a bag of Crunchy Cheetos is sufficient to color the largest canvas. Along with his pants. And the couch cushions. And the good towels we save for guests….

So, celebrate fall. Run out and buy a couple of pumpkins. And pick me up a bag of Cheetos while you’re out, will ya?