Pumpkin hunters prowl for the pick of the patch

At Westminster farm, shoppers are encouraged to handle the merchandise

Maryland Journal

October 24, 2005|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

By the time her four grandsons and their mothers arrived at Baugher's Farm and Orchard in Westminster, Jeanette Witt had stashed pumpkin pies and a basket of apples in her van and had staked out a few pumpkins.

But the final decision on which pumpkins would go home rested with the boys.

"I want something I can get my hands around and nothing with a weak stem that could snap in half," said Nicholas Witt, 11.

His 6-year-old brother, Brad, wanted the "heaviest one I can carry and something that sits straight so I can carve his face."

His more fastidious cousin, Jon Witt, 12, wanted one that's big and free of farm soil.

"The rule is whatever you can lift and carry," said Jeanette Witt, who made the trip last week from Hanover, Pa., to conduct and finance her grandsons' annual pumpkin adventure. "We can't go out to the pumpkin patch today, but we are determined to do this every year regardless of the weather."

Three generations of the Witt family have gathered at Baugher's for the past 12 years to select - and often pick - their own pumpkins. The search for that great orange gourd that figures into fall decor, spooky tales and classic cartoons has become the stuff of family tradition.

It is a trek to the countryside, a hayride to a farm field and a culling of the crop for the biggest, smoothest and roundest. Even a steady downpour and an autumn chill cannot deter a determined pumpkin hunter.

Foul weather forced the orchard to cancel its hayride, an event that delivers as many as 2,600 visitors a day to acres of pumpkins on the vine.

"It takes a long time in the field for all the boys to choose," said Jeanette Witt. "They will spend an hour walking all over the field, and there have been times when it was bitter cold."

In lieu of the field, the Witts and other undaunted customers took to the bins where Baugher's provides customers with hundreds of newly picked pumpkins.

"Deploy umbrellas," Julie Scott of Westminster told her two young sons as they embarked on their search.

"I hope all the big ones aren't gone," said Michael Scott, 8.

Baugher's orchard is a popular field trip destination for families, schools and day care centers. A dry August helped produce a bumper pumpkin crop that spreads across 30 acres.

"We sell them by the ton all day," said Allan Baugher, farmer and scion of a family that recently marked 51 years in business. "It's been a good year for pumpkins."

And for pumpkin sales.

Amy Plitt has not missed a pumpkin purchase at Baugher's in 24 years. She bought 11 last week.

"It would not be fall without a pumpkin search," she said. "Halloween has always been a special time for our family. We always carved our pumpkins on Oct. 30, my sister's birthday."

Her sister died last year, but Plitt will continue the tradition. She plans to paint a face on one pumpkin and place it on her sister's grave.

At the market last week, customers frequently folded down empty van seats to accommodate a load of pumpkins.

"We get so many so we can have a pumpkin hunt in the fall, like the egg hunt at Easter," said Linda Wike of Westminster.

Danielle McAulay, 5, asks her mother to stop at "the pumpkin patch" every time the Westminster family drives past the orchard. Danielle filled a shopping cart with pumpkins, gourds, cider and topped the pile with a pie.

Options abound.

"I want a white one," 4-year-old Haley Hagerty insisted.

She lingered at the bin of white ones. Pumpkins come in myriad colors and shapes, and gourds offer even more variety. James Graves came from Bowie to buy fall decorations for his church.

"They've got pumpkins here like I have never seen before," said Graves, who spent nearly $100 on pumpkins, Indian corn and gourds.

Wendy Hardesty arrived with four children and tried to expedite the process.

"Four kids, four pumpkins. Let's do it," she said.

But decisions and logistics slowed them down. Mathew Hardesty, 11, was after the scariest, and the littlest Hardesty, 5-year-old Jordan, ended up with the heaviest.

"I can't carry it, but I want it," she said.

Day care provider Marcy Dorsey braved the rain with eight children in her charge.

"We only need eight!" she cautioned as the children scurried to the bins and grabbed armfuls of pumpkins.

Demas Bryant, 9, walked away with a 13-pound pumpkin.

"I can carry it!" he said as the other children offered to help. "It's not too heavy."

Most of the Witts finished the search with time to spare. While one cousin continued his quest, the others whiled away the time climbing trees and playing tag around a giant strawberry sculpture. They were rain-soaked and smiling as they lined up to weigh their pumpkins, which cost 35 cents a pound.

Jeanette Witt forked over $30 for a passel of pumpkins, with Jon's and Nick's the heftiest - both in excess of 23 pounds - and costliest. The boys mugged for the annual family photo, complete with gourds on their heads.

Cheryl Vural, manager of the orchard market, said families often share the photos, which fill albums at the market.

"We show them pictures of toddlers, and they tell us the kid has just graduated from high school," Vural said.

Jeanette Witt paid her bill and said: "I came out all right today. When it's warm, I usually am buying them ice cream, too."

Then one of the boys asked, "Where for lunch?"

"I guess it's gonna cost me more after all," she said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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