The giants catch your eye, and then they keep you captivated. Organic sculptures with individual personalities. Some appear to be almost melting, while others look like stone.
In the formal gardens of a castle in Ludwigsburg, Germany, lies a pumpkin festival fit for royalty. Come along as I explore the details that make this event one of the best in the world…
For two years, Ludwigsburg has been on my mind. I first discovered the event while searching online for the pumpkin events of Europe. Long ago, I took a German 1 class in Switzerland, and it was there that my very first word in Deutsch was kurbis, or pumpkin. Six years later, pumpkin would change my life, and perhaps rule my world. So that night in 2016, I searched online for kurbis, and struck gold.
As a pumpkin grower, with a great love of pumpkin biodiversity, pumpkin artistry, and all of the culinary aspects of squash, the event was like a dream. Unfortunately, my 2016 journey was postponed due to an airline strike, which left me crying in the Venice airport. I remained mad at the airlines for quite some time, sulking over the loss of my pumpkin party. My reaction illuminated just how much I wanted to attend this event, and I vowed to try again.
When I returned to Italy this year as a Slow Food Terra Madre delegate, I made the pact with myself that I would go to Ludwigsburg, and this time by train. My transit from Naples to Ludwigsburg took 13.5 hours, and it was the very best decision I could have made. It was a test of dedication. The train wound it’s way through Rome, Florence, Bologna, Innsbruck, Munich, Stuttgart, and finally arriving at my destination. The train had stunning vistas all around, and I was content to simply gaze at the landscape as my seat mate, and I spoke of our travels. As I neared Ludwigsburg, I was noticeably giddy.
The festival runs from September, through the first weekend in November. There are special featured events on each weekend: a pumpkin regatta, German giant pumpkin competition, the all Europe giant pumpkin competition, carving competitions, a weekend of kurbis (pumpkin) soup making, and ending with smashing pumpkins, where crowds gather to crush the giant pumpkins.
Each weekend offered something special, and ongoing large scale pumpkin sculptures are on display for the duration of the event. There is also an extensive pumpkin menu served throughout the grounds. I’ll be returning tomorrow, to view the special carving competition, where artists carve the non winning giant pumpkins. I’ll also make a dedicated effort to work my way through the kurbis menu.
Simply put, la zucca is pumpkin, in Italian. It is the word that I have used the most in the past weeks. I have chopped them, searched for them, harvested, them and dined on them in nearly every corner of Italy, but there is still more. There are still fairs to attend, restaurants to dine in, and seeds to explore. I have been a bit lost in a flurry of action, as festivals run back-to-back. The connection to the people of Italy is so immediate. I show a photo, I note that I am a producer of pumpkins, and it seems that hearts open up. they forgive my “bad Italian” because I speak the ultimate Italian: farming. The production of food is more important than language.
Every village seems to have them in the shops, every Airbnb in which I stay has one on the kitchen counter. This wonderfully simple vegetable is loved here in Italy.
I have crossed from Slow Food Terra Madre in Turin, to Florence, to Mondovi, to Alba, to Lecce, Orsara di Puglia, Naples, then launched north to Germany. I tour festivals and fields, corner markets, and kitchen counter tops. Seeds fill my pockets, squash fills my stomach, and I sleep well at night. In the weeks ahead, I will be sharing my journey with you, one zucca at a time.
This past month, global delegates gathered for our bi-annual Slow Food International meeting in Turin, Italy. We were brought together for a common goal, the pursuit, celebration, and the discovery of possibilities surrounding pure food. With my love being all things pumpkin, I searched the halls of Terra Madre Salone Del Gusto with a keen eye for all things relating to la zucca. As I looked around, I participated in workshops, culinary classes, and symposiums relating to seed saving and issues involving biodiversity, and more. I was reunited with farmers, seed savers, and chefs, who all spoke the global common language of food.
In September, festival plans are being made throughout the Piedmont region of Italy, as well in other areas of central Europe’s “pumpkin belt.” Fernando and his associates at the food truck offered me a snack, and invited me to come to their region’s celebration at the end of October. It turns out that Fernando will be making his regionally famous pumpkin strudel. They pushed a plate of squash bloom fritters my way as a gift for a fellow pumpkin fan.
A sort of solidarity exists for those who appreciate the humble vegetable in it’s many varied forms. My pumpkin dappled business card best illustrates my love of this vegetable upon introduction. Immediately, the images of pumpkin break through any language barriers, and connect me with the people of these agricultural communities.
In the weeks ahead, I will be travelling from the North to the South of Italy in search of all aspects of squash, from culinary usage, to celebrations of biodiversity. I hope you will follow along with me as, I search the country from top to bottom on the “pumpkin trail of Italy”
Upcountry Hawaii is often overflowing with avocados in the Winter. They have been sliced, scooped, mashed, and now roasted. I often clean my kitchen cabinets this time of year, and one of the items that I discovered was an unopened bag of Japanese style bread crumbs, known as Panko. With the winds, and heavy rains bringing down even more avocados, I roasted warm dish was in order. I selected a perfectly ripe one, cut off the bruised bit where it fell to the ground, and sliced it into planks. Next, I beat one egg, and dipped the avocado in it before dredging through the breadcrumbs. I lined them up in a baking dish, and sprinkled them with seasoned seaweed flakes. I set the oven to 450 and let them turn golden (about 15 min.) For a dipping sauce, I combined chili garlic paste, sesame oil, tamari (or soy) sauce, and two spoonfuls of my lemongrass tea (optional.) The result was a lovely warm appetizer with a Pacific twist. I ate it as a meal, but it could be served as a side as well. Simple, healthy, and using our produce abundance in a new, tasty way. Aloha.
The number one garden question that I receive is seemingly simple, “when do I plant in Hawaii?” In reality, it is a very complex question, especially with our changing weather patterns. What is my answer? Frequently. Get new plants started as frequently as you can, and try a range of edible plant types. This year was a tropical storm year which brought a wild range of growing conditions at 2700ft elevation. Colder, and wetter than normal, and we cannot forget the seemingly endless winds. Though the combination caused a diminished squash crop, other vegetables thrived. Let me explain.
When temperatures and humidity levels shift rapidly, some plants refuse to set fruit. Squash is well known for hitting the pause button when it isn’t getting what it needs. Some plants need it to be warmer, some need it to be less windy, and other plants are more impacted by day length. Observation is the key to understanding this. Some of you may recall my transplanting many stunted Aji Limon chili peppers a few days before Christmas, 2015. Though slow to grow, the wet season that December (sometimes) brings was just right for them. They became big, full plants, and then fruited profusely in June. This had them producing chili just in time for pairing them with mango. It is now October, and those one time stunted, and seemingly mistimed plants, have remained in continuous fruiting. I am sharing this to remind us that every day, every plant, and every challenge, gives us an opportunity to learn. Most mainland planters may have kept those peppers in pots until March or April. I was tempted to try to over winter them in pots. As it turned out, these Peruvian peppers liked the cooler temps, and additional humidity that an upcountry Winter can bring. I learned that not all peppers are alike. Weather that made some chili plants dormant, made another double in scale.
Just this week we had snow on the mountain, known as Mauna Kea volcano. Though the snow is at 14,000ft, and I am at 2700 ft, it impacts my growing, by bringing cool winds down the slope. In order to make the most of this endlessly cold year, I am getting out the seed flats again, and getting a lot of leafy greens going…again. Swiss chard, a variety of kale, collards, peas, and favas will all love this season. Since the temperature is changing rapidly from day to day, I am also using this window of time, where we still have quite a bit of warmth, to start some more tomatillos. I am taking the risk to try a few more pepper starts that all need quite warm days to germinate. Will it work? Only time will tell, but I do know that having a wide variety of plants will keep you, and your community well fed, no matter what season holds in store. Just like these loveable heirlooms, we can adapt, and we will be better gardeners for it. Aloha!
I get a lot of questions about how I manage to get away from the farm. There are several things I “set up” prior to my departure that makes all run a bit more smoothly.
1) Amend the soil with farm made fish emulsion. A strong plant will have a higher chance of surviving/and or fruiting.
2) Refill tropical fruit fly stations and secure them against wind. This will keep pest pressure down while the farmer is away.
3) Make microbe rich bokashi and add to compost tumblers and composting piles.
4) Trim vines back all around irrigation heads that are set on timers. This will help keep the vines from blocking the flow of water to your plants.
5) Make new buckets of fish emulsion. They will ferment while you are away, leaving you well stocked with natural fertilizer when you return home.
Today is a quiet day where I try to calm myself before the National Heirloom Expo begins. The expo team is surprised by this, thinking that I would be a ease as a public speaker, but instead it is a challenge. Like so many other things related to my farming, it hasn’t come easily. But it is the work that inspires me, and to be able to summarize that work, is at times quite difficult. Each year farming feels like three, or even seven, like dog years. Each day is filled to overflowing with life, and death, success and failures. Lessons learned. The printed words on the side of a bottle of kombucha tell me to “be present, be at peace; and you are what you believe-E.D.” It seems a far cry from my current situation. Facing the lovingly made presentation slides of life lessons that must be edited out of the Powerpoints. There is just too much. So my fingertip eases over to the delete key and it is gone. One less page.
Our view of farming is much like our view of an ice burg. We think we know it, but the foundation is vast and out of sight. How to you inspire without overwhelming? How to you ground us in reality without discouraging? How do you fill another with inspiration even though you are so tired you want to sleep in the corner? It is simple passion for life. It is hard to teach, and harder to reach, but once it is in your grasp, you will feel like the world is yours. So I make myself a smoothie of every green thing that I can find in home and garden, throw it back, and try to live up to the words on the bottle: be present. Be at peace. You are what you believe. I believe in possibility, and a whole lot of peace comes from that optimism.
Aloha everyone! I thought I would take a moment to post the summary of my upcoming talk on September 6, 2016, 11am in Santa Rosa, CA.
Currently Presenting: What I Wish I Knew Then: The First Three Years Farming
How could an oversized vegetable and an undersized car have helped to bridge gaps in an agricultural community? Anna shares her often humorous path to possibility by illustrating the lessons learned by risking failure in every aspect of her squash farm. Her willingness to step in and look for solutions helped her to eventually earn the respect of her commercial farming neighbors. By embracing failure, and then understanding it fully, her efforts became encouraging, living examples of the importance of seed diversity.