Pumpkins have countless uses: pies, muffins, soups, cheesecakes, and playpens. Yes, playpens! And eventually those playpens lead to poetry… or to pies.
Pumpkin Use #1: Playpen
When the corn crop is ready to harvest and no childcare is available, simply take your infant with you to the field and surround him or her with a circle of pumpkins. This orange fence will happily entertain your child for hours. At least that’s Catharine Parr Traill’s advice in The Female Emigrant’s Guide (121).
Catharine Parr Traill
Pumpkin Use #2: Story
Traill’s pumpkin plot, or story, highlights settler ingenuity and the need to re-write gender roles in the Canadian backwoods. Intense physical labour was entirely unfamiliar to refined 19th-century middle-class emigrants, yet Traill recommends that in a new place, one must adopt new perspectives and practices. The story she tells, then, is about a female emigrant who single-handedly harvests an entire crop while her husband, who is ill in bed, remains indoors. The story’s lesson is that backwoods femininity can include “a tone of energy and manly independence” that directly benefits one’s children (Traill 121).
Pumpkin Use #3: Poem
Traill’s story is about crossing “physical and ideological boundaries” by reframing “the feminine sphere, pushing outward into the masculine domain” (Boyd 91). The unconventional nature of this female emigrant character eventually inspired Canadian poet Robert Kroetsch to write a tribute to Traill in his “Pumpkin: A Love Poem.”
Rather than writing from the female emigrant’s perspective, Kroetsch assumes the position of the pumpkin-encircled infant, and even takes the scenario one step further by placing the child “Inside the pumpkin” (1). Is the pumpkin now a cradle? Is it a womb? Is it a head? Perhaps it is all of those things and more.
From inside his orange globe, the young male speaker carves outward, forming a jack-o-lantern face with genitalia-like features. His sensual orange face is ambiguous in terms of sex and is clearly inspired by Traill’s own 19th-century re-imaginings of the feminine and the masculine (Boyd 92-93). While the carved pumpkin signals fertility and creativity, it is also a chance to create a new identity. The young poet-speaker attempts to “lift the old eye to its new vision” (13) and to “cut the new mouth” (25) while he “slice[s] out the old” (29).
Thus, just as the female emigrant’s pumpkins served as a playpen for her child, Kroetsch uses his single vegetable to create a new space for the next generation of Canadian writers who want to challenge their own boundaries and conventions.
Kroetsch once described Canada as “as relatively young country with few of its own literary models,” which meant “literal objects” had to become the sources of poetic inspiration (Brown 7). As a playpen, a story, and a poem, the pumpkin becomes the site of colonial and post-colonial Canadian literary traditions responding to each other across time. How fortunate for us that during October, this vegetable is capable of appealing to all our senses!
Pumpkin Use #4: Pies
In The Female Emigrant’s Guide, Parr Traill writes of pumpkin pie that there is “not a better dish eaten” and proceeds to give readers a number of tips on the making of this cross between “a custard and a cheese-cake” (133).
Her instructions are loose: soft pumpkin, new milk, two or three eggs, with grated ginger and “as much sugar as will make it sweet enough to be pleasant”(134).
I (Alexia here) have used Anna Olsen’s recipe for pate sucree and a Williams Sonoma recipe for the pie. This because I require a little more precision in the way of ingredients and measurements, not being a terribly deft baker, (as anyone examining my crust will quickly discover). Using a small, sweet pumpkin from our farm share gave this pie a lovely yellow colour. The taste, the result of this fresh pumpkin is light and subtle.
Text Credits: Shelley Boyd and Alexia Moyer
Photo Credit (except where indicated): Alexia Moyer
Boyd, Shelley. Garden Plots: Canadian Women Writers and Their Literary Gardens. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013.
Brown, Russell. “An Interview with Robert Kroetsch.” University of Windsor Review 7.2 (1972): 1-18.
Dodge, Abigail J, Chuck Williams, and Maren Maruso. Williams-Sonoma: Dessert. New York: Simon & Schuster Source, 2002. 58.
Kroetsch, Robert. “Pumpkin: A Love Poem.” The Stone Hammer Poems, 1960-1975. Lantzville: Oolichan Books, 1976. 26-27.
Traill, Catharine Parr.The Female Emigrant’s Guide: Cooking with a Canadian Classic. Ed. Nathalie Cooke and Fiona Lucas. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.
Keepers of the Code: English-Canadian Literary Anthologies and the Representation of the Nation. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2013.
The Cadence of Civil Elegies. Toronto: Cormorant, 2006.
Dr. Delicious: Memoirs of a Life in CanLit. Montreal, Véhicule, 2006.
English-Canadian Literary Anthologies: An Enumerative Bibliography. Teeswater, ON: Reference, 1997.
Making It Real: The Canonization of English-Canadian Literature. Toronto: Anansi, 1995.
An Other I: The Fictions of Clark Blaise. Toronto: ECW, 1988.
Robert Kroetsch. Boston: Twayne, 1986.
On the Line: Readings in the Short Fiction of Clark Blaise, John Metcalf, and Hugh Hood. Downsview, ON: ECW, 1982.
Anthologizing Canadian Literature: Theoretical and Cultural Perspectives. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2015.
Open Country: Canadian Literature in English. Toronto: Thomson Nelson, 2007.
Borderlands: Essays in Canadian-American Relations. Toronto: ECW, 1991.
Canadian Canons: Essays in Literary Value. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1991.
The New Canadian Anthology: English-Canadian Poetry and Short Fiction. With Jack David. Toronto: Nelson, 1988.
Introduction to Literature: British, American, Canadian. With Jack David and Peter O'Brien. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
Canadian Writers and Their Works: Essays on Form, Context, and Development (CWTW). With Jack David and Ellen Quigley. Poetry and Fiction in two series and 24 Vols., 1982- . Toronto: ECW Press.
Introduction to Fiction. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983.
The Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors (ABCMA). With Jack David. 8 Vols., 1982- . Toronto: ECW Press.
Anthology of Maine Literature. With Kathleen Brown. Orono, Maine: U of Maine P, 1982.
Canadian Poetry. WithJack David. Don Mills, ON: New Press Canadian Classics. Vols. I & II, 1982.
Introduction to Poetry: British, American, Canadian. With Jack David. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981.
Journal articles and book chapters
“Canadian Authors and Their Literary Agents.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada (Spring 2016). Forthcoming.
“The Other Side of Things: Reading Clark Blaise's ‘Notes Beyond a History’. ” Clark Blaise: Essays on His Works. Ed. J.R. (Tim) Struthers. Oakville, ON: Guernica Editions, 2016. 187-204.
“Representations of Nation in Donna Bennett and Russell Brown’s An Anthology of Canadian Literature in English.” Editing as Cultural Practice. Ed. Dean Irvine and Smaro Kamboureli. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2016. 149-67.
“Like following a mirage”: Memory and Empowerment in Alice Munro’s “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” Journal of the Short Story in English 64 (Spring 2015): 207-18.
“Reflections on ECW.” ECW Press 40. Ed. Michael Holmes. Toronto: ECW, 2014. 10-28.
“Nineteenth-Century English-Canadian Anthologies and the Making of a National Literature. ” Journal of Canadian Studies 44.1 (Winter 2010): 91-117.
“‘A Quest for the Peaceable Kingdom’: The Narrative in Northrop Frye’s ‘Conclusion’ to the Literary History of Canada.” Northrop Frye’s Canadian Literary Criticism and Its Influence. Ed. Branko Gorjup. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009. 260-76.
“Materializing Canada: National Literature Anthologies and the Making of a Canon.” Australasian Canadian Studies 26.1 (2008): 23-41.
“Anthologizing Canadian Literature: Material Conditions and the Making of a Canon.” 2007 Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities. Honolulu, Hawaii, 2007.
“The Evolution of Canadian Criticism since 1970.” Congreso Internacional Patrimonio Cultural. Universidad de Cordoba. Cordoba, Argentina, 2006.
“Where Is Here Now?” Essays on Canadian Writing 71 (2000): 6-13.
“Le Conseil des Arts du Canada et la formation de la littérature canadienne. Que vaut la littérature? Ed. Denis-Saint Jacques. Québec: Editions Nota bene, 2000. 235-44.
“Would You Publish This Book? Material Production, Canadian Criticism, and The Theatre of Form.” Studies in Canadian Literature 25.1 (2000): 15-36.
“The Canada Council and the Construction of Canadian Literature.” English Studies in Canada 25.3-4 (1999): 322-45.
“The Writing’s on the Wall.” Saturday Night July-August 1996: 15-24, 51.“Readers, Machines, Gardens: Alice Munro’s ‘Carried Away.’” Essays on Canadian Writing 66 (1999): 103-27.
“Watson and Pierce and Our Canadian Literature.” Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 38 (1996): 49-87.
“Inventing Literature.” Geist 4.19/20 (1995-96): 25-30.
“The New Canadian Library: A Classic Deal.” American Review of Canadian Studies 24.2 (1994): 197-216.
“Anthologizing English-Canadian Fiction: Some Canonical Trends.” Open Letter 9.1 (1994): 25-80.
“Professionalism and the Rhetoric of English Canadian Criticism.” Zeitschrift für Kanada-Studien 25.1 (1994): 87-103.
“Privacy, Publicity, and the Discourse of Canadian Criticism.” Essays on Canadian Writing 51-51 (1994): 32-82.
“Nobody Gets Hurt Bullfighting Canadian-Style: Rereading Frank Davey's ‘Surviving the Paraphrase.’” Studies in Canadian Literature 18 (1993): 1-23.
“In Search of the Peaceable Kingdom: The Narrative in Northrop Frye's ‘Conclusion’ to the Literary History of Canada.” PMLA 108 (1993): 283 93.“A Country without a Canon Canadian Literature and the Esthetics of Idealism.” Mosaic 26.3 (1993): 1-19.
“Making It Real: Representations of Value in English-Canadian Criticism.” Canada Ieri e Oggi 3. Atti dell '8' convegno internazionale di studi canadesi. Fasano: Schena, 1992. 9-21.
“Critical Response [to Frank Davey].” Critical Inquiry 16.3 (1990): 682-89.
“The Canonization of Canadian Literature: An Inquiry into Value.” Critical Inquiry 16.3 (Spring 1990): 656-71.