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Fall’s favorite fruit: Searching for the perfect pumpkin

PHOTO SUBMITTED /  Students from North Pike Middle School, shown here aboard the corn wagon, had first-to-the-patch honors this season at Swan Creek Farms.

PHOTO SUBMITTED / Students from North Pike Middle School, shown here aboard the corn wagon, had first-to-the-patch honors this season at Swan Creek Farms.

How’s this for a seasonal tongue twister?

Peter Piper perused the punkin’ patch for the perfect potential pick.

Well, perhaps Peter should stick with his pickles, but plenty of others are poring over pumpkins this month at private patches and public parties. Folks are thumping all types – orange, green, round, oval, long-handled, giant, warty, seedless. There’s even a variety named for Cinderella, because these beauties bear a resemblance to the princess’s famous transforming carriage.

At Swan Creek Farms, located just four miles outside of Monticello, visitors will find a two-acre field full of what owner Dennie Thurman calls “pie pumpkins.”

“They’re small, no larger than a cantaloupe. Good for baking,” he explains. They’re also just the right size to become someone’s personal pumpkin property.

Swan Creek plays host to crowds of children this time of year as Halloween approaches. Each paid admission to the farm, which boasts a 27-acre agri-tourism playground, includes a trip to the patch and a pumpkin pick of choice.

Thurman, who runs the operation with the help of family members, describes the scene when school children visit the attraction: “The teacher can hardly contain them when they see the field. They’re off and running to look for the biggest and best pumpkin as soon as we stop.”

He adds that employees work hard to make the entire experience special. “To begin with, everybody has to climb across hay bales and find a seat aboard a corn wagon. A tractor then pulls them to the site.”

There in the field, more than 4,800 orange treasures will grace the ground this year, ripe for the picking. Well, not exactly picking. There are no trailing vines from which to pluck them, no baby blooms to avoid. That’s because cultivating a crop from seeds would require more acreage than the Thurmans have at their disposal.

Thankfully, it’s been a good year for gourds in north Mississippi, where the pumpkins used by Swan Creek Farms were grown. “We ship ours in from Blue Mountain,” Thurman explains, noting that he was part of a late-night unloading crew when the delivery truck arrived the last week of September. The task of hand-placing them in the pasture belongs to workers.

The Thurmans began offering a pumpkin patch in 2011, and its growing popularity now has them open every day in October. But with a waterfowl park, exotic animal petting zoo, pony rides, paddle boating, a cafe, and a 150-foot zip line, there’s plenty more than pumpkins to play in.

“The farm appeals to all ages. We even cater events here,” Thurman’s wife Joy says, mentioning a retired teacher’s luncheon they hosted recently.

In addition to their special pumpkin patch hours, Swan Creek Farms is open on Saturdays year round. For more information, call (601) 587-7114 or visit their website at www.swancreekfarms.com.

Decorating Ideas

Wondering what to do with those pumpkins you so purposefully picked? Here’s some decorating ideas to consider before your prize becomes pie.

•Make it personal with a boldly painted monogram.

• Use emptied ones as urns, coolers, candlesticks, or soup tureens.

• Employ large finds as overflow seating for small tikes.

•Choose the flat-top variety and stack three like a snowman.

• Carve multiples with flames instead of faces and insert votives for a no-burn-spot bonfire.

• Remove the pulp, line with foil and fill with candy or other party treats.

• Tie the stem with a ribbon and display as a place card holder.