Monday, October 31, 2011

The Great Pumpkin Sacrifice

Over the weekend we made our "sacrifice" to the pumpkin gods and carved up our pumpkins for Halloween. What would Halloween be with out the carved jack-o-lantern? Not the same to be sure, but the pumpkin is a New World addition to the Halloween traditions that originated in Europe. Before the pumpkin, turnips or rutabagas were carved into the vegetable lanterns.

The pumpkin is a New World vegetable that has been cultivated by the Native peoples of the Americas since ancient times. While the exact origins of the pumpkin are not known, pumpkin-like seeds have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 and 5500 BCE. With what the pumpkin has to offer why wouldn't it be grown for thousands of years? It is a very easy to grow plant that provides copious amounts of nutritious, long-keeping food (both the flesh of the pumpkin and its seeds.) And as with many food plants, there are medicinal uses and healthful qualities beyond the simple nutrition it provides.

Back to our carving of the pumpkins, not all of our parings went into the compost bin. We saved the seeds for toasting and the pieces carved out for roasting. Some like the pumpkin flesh roasted with salt and olive oil. In my opinion that would work well with a pie pumpkin but not so with the bland flesh of pumpkin grown for carving. (What's the difference?) A little salt, black pepper, butter, and brown sugar is the way to go - you have to give it some flavor and my favorite way to cook a variety of winter squashes fits the bill.

And if you have never toasted the seeds, what are you waiting for? These are truly divine! Here's a recipe for toasting your Halloween pumpkin's seeds:

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
  • 2 c. Raw, whole pumpkin seeds
  • 2 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • Salt to taste
Wash the pumpkin seeds and drain well. Toss seeds with butter and salt. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes in an oven preheated to 300 degrees. Be sure to stir occasionally and toast until golden brown.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the pumpkin and perhaps you may now consider it to be more than just something for decoration and pies. I wish you a happy Halloween and a wonderful Samhain!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Faceless Cork Husk Dolls

Corn husk dolls made by Ronnie Reitter
For a Ganondagan Brand Development workshop at the Rochester Ad Council recently, we were asked to "bring a physical object [we] feel represents Ganondagan and be prepared to tell the group why". I reflected quite a bit on my assignment and kept coming back to my faceless corn husk doll. It captures so much for me about Ganondagan. The story is often told at Ganondagan events. I first heard Ronnie Reitter tell it- about the girl who was so vain she repeatedly got distracted from the Creator's message to watch over the children because she was gazing at her own reflected image. She ignored the Creator's repeated warnings. Finally, the Creator took her face away so she wouldn't be self-absorbed and distracted from her community role anymore. That is why corn husk dolls are made faceless to this day, as a reminder of our community responsibility to care for others and that "we are all equal".

Good toys teach, and this one teaches a powerful lesson of our responsibility to the community and to the next generation. Corn is one of the Three Sisters' food staples; and every part of what is taken from the natural world is put to good use-including corn husks. Dolls are just one thing that can be made from corn husks. This children's toy is made without money from materials readily available in the natural world. It is a sustainable toy and easily returns to Mother Earth. It reminds me, too, of Ganondagan's efforts to bring back good, healthy traditional corn through the White Corn project.  And the dolls can be made at Ganondagan and sold in our Gift Shop to help support Ganondagan while educating others.

Anyone can learn to make this toy, including me- who has no talent for crafts. Ronnie Reitter taught me to make mine as part of Ganondagan staff's commitment to sharing their knowledge of traditional values and crafts. The relationship with Ronnie as teacher makes mine special for me. But mine is unfinished- she is not yet "dressed", marking the time when trade came, and scrapes of trade goods started being used to put traditional "outfits" on the dolls. For me, this awareness is connected to my wish to learn more. There is so much I don't know or understand. I am hoping for a workshop on corn husk doll dressing and its meanings.    

Mattie Schmitt
Ganondagan Board Member