I love this time of year. The air feels fresh and new, the sky appears bluer, and fallen leaves decorate the roads in reds, oranges and yellows. Pumpkin Fever sets in, reminding us of hot cider and warm autumn dishes.
For the past 13 years I have been throwing an annual “chili fest.” I invite family and friends over for a pumpkin picking adventure at Lewin Farms, before returning home to make chili. All ages get involved.
It’s $25 for all you can carry, so whoever has the longest arms holds all the pumpkins for about three seconds. Last year it was my daughter’s boyfriend. Our chili fest continues to grow, so we never know who will be the pumpkin holder for that year.
Besides picking out the perfect pumpkin for carving, decorating or just displaying on your front step, we also gather gourds, corn stalks and straw. If you are like me and really want to make a statement, all of these items are essential.
After everyone picks a pumpkin, colored markers are handed out so that each person can mark the bottom of their choice with their name. Next, we all climb into our trucks, vans and cars, and make our way back to the house. We all locate our pumpkins and put them into our own cars.
As we enter the house, a flurry of activity ensues. In the kitchen, pumpkin beers like Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale and Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat are popped open and poured into cinnamon-and-sugar-rimmed glasses. At the bar in the dining room others are creating cocktails with “eyeballs” made out of olives. We usually have two different types of chili on the stove—one is beef with a smoky flavor and the other is vegetarian. On the side counter are the most important features of the meal—the toppings. What’s a bowl of chili without chopped onions, shredded sharp cheddar, sour cream and chives?
An assembly line begins to take shape as each person grabs a bowl and spoon awaiting their turn to make the perfect chili dish. We share stories about our lives, laughing and smiling, while enjoying the autumnal festivity. In the center of the table is a large bowl filled with water. In it are floating pumpkin candles creating a warm, inviting atmosphere for dining.
Afterward the table is cleared only to be refilled with homemade apple and pumpkin pies. Each piece of pie is adorned with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream. As pumpkin-spiced coffee and tea are served, it begins to get chilly and a fire is started out on the deck, just outside the French doors. As I see my family and friends gathered outside together, I feel a sense of satisfaction and contentment. I begin to think about Thanksgiving, which is right around the corner.
The sky starts to darken as the day comes to an end. We begin the ritual of hugs and kisses goodbye. We always say “I love you, drive safe, and give me a buzz when you get home.”
Lewin Farms is near my house, but it’s not the only place to go pumpkin picking. For small children, I find Gabrielsen’s Country Farm to be the best. Gabrielsen’s offers a train ride, so you can tour all of their attractions. Kids love the farm animals, tractor cycles and jumping bouncy house, roasted sweet corn, popcorn, candy corn and other goodies. For a reasonable fee, you can experience a corn maze.
Lewin Farms, 812 Sound Avenue, Wading River, 631-929-4327, lewinfarm.com
Gabrielsen’s Country Farm, 1299 Main Road, Jamesport 631-722-3259, gabrielsenscountryfarm.com