Joyce Bupp, farm wife

There’s a neck pumpkin cooking down in the oven here this morning.

It’s not one I just brought in from the tangles of vines in a couple of locations around the farm. This pumpkin is from last year’s harvest. That a pumpkin would last a whole year in storage, and still be solid and tasty, just boggles my mind.

Keeping it around that long was never intended. It got lost, under a soft blanket I’d used to protect the pumpkins and spaghetti squash during their storage in a dry spot in our basement. And the good-sized pumpkin simply got forgotten, until I moved some other items one day last week and was astonished &tstr; and a little horrified &tstr; to find it staring up at me.

Had I wasted a perfectly good piece of garden harvest? But the pumpkin felt sturdy and solid. So, on this cool morning, a couple of days after unearthing the pumpkin potential, it’s baking away in the oven, chopped into small pieces in a pan of water, to be run through the food mill after the flesh cooks soft, to remove stringy bits and pieces of shell residue.

As much as I hate to admit it, this is not the first time that a neck pumpkin has languished in storage here for longer than one would expect. So, over the past several years, I made a point of saving the seed from these durable, storable, hard-shelled vegetables for the following year’s planting.

The seeds aren’t from any named variety that I know of, but at this point, I’m considering them my personal heirloom variety. Anything that keeps that well, that long, is a keeper. A large handful of the seeds were rinsed, drained and put outside in a warm, shady spot to dry on a piece of newspaper. When thoroughly dry, they went into a sealed container in the refrigerator to become pumpkin seed, for next year. Done.

At dusk the evening before, I’d lugged in from the garden a market basket overflowing with a colorful array of some of the year’s late yield of goodies, despite some sections of the veggie patch now resembling a mini-jungle. Efforts to heavily mulch with cardboard, newspaper and lots of bedding pack straw-manure helped early on in the season, but by summer’s end the weeds and foxtail grass always manage to outrun my weeding abilities. Excessive heat and recent, needed showers further encouraged the lush entanglement.

But the shading and support of weedy neighbors helped to keep upright &tstr; sorta’ &tstr; the tall banana peppers turning their long, slender, pale-hued fruits into beautiful streaky blends of yellow, orange and reds, on their way to full deep-crimson ripeness. Bell-type peppers may be more classic, but for performance, yield and dependability, I’ve become a banana pepper enthusiast. Season after season, they’ve easily outproduced their bell-type cousins, at least in our garden. Banana peppers are keepers.

For years, I grew Early Girl tomatoes, always the first, and last, to bear. In recent years, though, the fruits have gotten smaller in size, to the point that I finally gave them up. After planting the variety Celebrity, and getting even earlier, full-sized tomatoes, I’ve switched allegiance. Both last year and this one, Celebrity stalks were the first to bear, and are still producing solid, palm-sized fruits, several of which covered the bottom of my basket of colorful, late season veggies. Celebrity variety tomatoes are keepers in our garden.

Last year, a friend shared several types of heirloom tomato seeds. I planted one or two of each, including a cherry-type called Jolly. Jolly turned out to be a pinkish shade, larger than most cherry-types, and was still bearing delicious, sweet, pink fruit when frost wiped it out. I salvaged one for seed, hoping to repeat the performance. The plants from that salvaged seed have been covered with clusters of good-sized, slightly pointed miniature tomatoes, some of them almost heart-shaped. I’ll save seed again this year, from one of the nicest, largest ones I can find. Those Jolly pink cherry tomatoes are keepers.

Just before dark, during the late evening picking session, I noticed long, pencil-thick green beans hanging from their viney stalks tangled over heavy, wire supports at the back of the garden. This year’s pole string beans are of the Blue Lake type, replacing the Romano ones I’ve grown for years. Romanos were meaty and delicious, but came with those pesky strings that give these beans their name. Blue Lakes appear to be equally vigorous, a stalk or two having twined up a support cable to the electric pole that sits mid-garden. Picking those may entail dragging a ladder to the garden. But they’re tasty, already yielding abundantly, and promise to be a new, garden-staple keeper.

Alas, the pie resulting from the year-old pumpkin, however, was not a keeper. It was quickly demolished by a couple of hard-working, hungry farmers.