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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Popular new island crop a big hit with kids, adults

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Aloun Farms employees pick pumpkins at the 'Ewa farm. The farm has a u-pick operation and sells to O'ahu stores.

Photos by Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

U-pick pumpkins at Aloun Farms

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

From H-1 westbound, take exit 5A (Kunia), remain in the right lane; take exit 6A (Kapolei) onto Old Farrington Highway. Watch for pumpkin patch signs. It's between Waipahu and Kapolei on Old Farrington Highway.

Prices: $1-$5, depending on size

Information: 677-9516

Against the distant hum of a tractor in a nearby field, the excited cries of children punctuate a hazy midmorning. They are part of a class of preschoolers discovering their inner jack-o'-lantern while spread out across a field at Aloun Farms' 'Ewa Ranch, 1,500 acres of melons, bananas and — for the second year in a row — pumpkins.

Two fields away, the real work of bringing pumpkin pies and decorative touches to the market is being carried out by laborers who tromp through the mud and endure the debilitating humidity of unseasonable rains. The operation is hands-on and surprisingly delicate.

First, a crew makes its way down the rows of vines, snipping the pumpkins off the stems with just the right length of green "handle" reserved, the way customers like them. Other workers pick the pumpkins up, gently wipe away the mud and set the hefty orange globes back down in regimented lines, that resemble bright orange brick pathways. Others follow, slapping Aloun Farms stickers on each pumpkin. Finally, a combine is driven down the rows, straddling the raised beds with inches to spare, while men give the pumpkins yet another wipe and throw them up to a crew filling Dumpster-size boxes labeled "Happy Halloween Aloun Farms."

Tropical pumpkins

It's been a long road to get here for farmer Alec Sou and his workers. They began doing trials of various pumpkin varieties four years ago, working with seeds meant for the warm growing regions of Central America. The learning curve was steep, and there wasn't much help available from the usual sources — seed companies and university agricultural agents — because no one knew much about growing pumpkins in Hawai'i, Sou said.

On the Mainland, pumpkins take 90 to 100 days to grow because of the steadily decreasing number of daylight hours in the fall. In Hawai'i, where the day length doesn't change much, the seeds take just 65 to 70 days to turn into full-grown pumpkins. Nothing that serves as conventional wisdom on the Mainland — about fertilizing, cultivation, pest and weed control and such — can be relied on here, so the Aloun Farms folks had to learn by doing.

This year, they have 75 acres of pumpkins, up from 50 acres last year, the first year of commercial production. And as it was, they lost 40 percent of last year's crop because of various problems. "It just takes trial and error," said Sou, displaying the self-deprecating humor and stoic patience that are as necessary to a farmer's repertoire as an understanding of soil and weather.

He's pleased that the local grocery chains all have agreed to carry Aloun Farms pumpkins (the big-box stores bring pumpkins in from out of state).

Now Sou faces another learning curve: that of island customers who must learn how to do more than carve a jagged toothy grin into a pumpkin's face. People here aren't used to thinking of pumpkin as a vegetable, but it is, after all, just another form of squash.

From the field to the kitchen

Jordan Nelligan, a second-grader at Messiah Lutheran School, hauls a hefty pumpkin out of the patch at Aloun Farms.
Sou explains that pumpkins are divided into four broad categories:
  • "Monsters," which are bred for size and suitable only for decor because their flesh is generally stringy and watery. These can weigh up to 15 pounds.
  • Standard or medium-size pumpkins, which make good jack-o'-lanterns and OK puree pies and breads, too. These run 4 to 12 pounds.
  • Minis, which are the best-tasting and work well in recipes that treat pumpkin as a vegetable, such as soups. These run 1 to 2 pounds.
  • Gourds, slightly flattened, tiny little pumpkins that are just for looking at; the flesh doesn't cook up right.

What, then, do you do with a pumpkin in the kitchen? Of course you can bake it and puree it for pies, puddings, cakes or breads. But you also can use the puree in creamy soups. Or cube or slice raw pumpkin and use it in stews, soups or curries. Strips of pumpkin can be used in stir-fries; the squash just needs a few minutes of braising in the cooking liquid. Baked and carefully hollowed out, the minis make attractive containers for soups or for meat or vegetarian stuffings. Recipesource.com even has a recipe for grilled pumpkin — but it's actually pumpkin oven-roasted with butter and herbs.