The sixth annual Warnham Invitation Challenge pumpkin growing competition attracted another large field, the 30 entrants yielding a spectacular crop of heavyweight orange-gold fruits of all shapes and sizes, with the weigh-in again taking place at the village’s Greets Inn in Friday Street.
Organiser Alan Dixon told the District Post: “I get the plants – Atlanta variety – from a nursery in Felbridge and issue one to each of the entrants to ensure that they all start on level pegging. After that I leave it up to them, they all have their own methods and techniques.”
The pumpkins, some weighing more than their owners, arrived at The Greets in wheel barrows and were loaded in through the side door for the weighing ceremony, starting with the smallest fruit, with a cursory check to eliminate any unlikely supermarket ringers. Andrew Collins’ renovated Avery platform scales from the 1930s were used, and, fittingly, Andrew was this year’s champion with his 163 pound specimen – in excess of 11 and a half stone, a good adult weight. The specimen had been tenderly nurtured with aid from his father, Andrew telling us: “This was my third attempt and I was quietly confident. After previous disappointments I vowed to be back, and with the experience gained I knew what was needed: deep rich compost, with plenty of food, light and water – and a bit of luck!”
Pumpkin growing is an international sport – very popular in the USA, where, as in Canada, pumpkin pies are also an essential component of Thanksgiving Day. In Australia and New Zealand pumpkins are prized for roasting and in Chile and South America they are a vital ingredient in soups and casseroles. And, pumpkin juice is the favourite tipple of the students of the Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft. Hardly surprising, then, that pumpkin folklore and history goes back a very long way with preserved Mexican seeds dated from 5000 BC. The species is native to North America and pumpkin growing contests are extremely serious business around the world with pedigree seeds exchanging hands for the price of a good holiday, incredibly resulting in specimens weighing over a ton. At Halloween – All Hallow’s Eve – when the departed are traditionally remembered, pumpkins are still hollowed out and lit internally to ward off evil spirits, and the Warnham pumpkins will be carved by Alan Dixon and put on display in Friday Street.
Andrew Collins wins the much-coveted cup and a meal for two at the iconic Greets, one of the few traditional hostelries still surviving, landlord Duncan Entwistle saying: “We’ve had another excellent evening here – its been really busy. Great fun!”