By Wynn Parks
Did you ever wonder which would win in a fight between a pumpkin and a watermelon? Unless they come from Serbia or the Balkans, not many people do.
Still, what’s likely to get anyone’s attention, especially at Halloween, is finding out that pumpkins and watermelons are probably best kept in different corners of the autumnal garden. If not, fighting is likely to break out, with these fratricidal hurlyburlys being the occasion when curcubit (pumpkin clan) cousins turn vampire.
In melees between and among these two groundhogging garden heavyweights, they are said to shake—presumably in vegetable rage—and roll around uttering burbling rattles. These are not new facts. They were documented all the way back in the 1930s by Serbian ethnologist Tatomir Vukanovic in the Journal of Gypsy Lore Society. Admittedly, Vukanovic’s singular documentation seems unique in the annals of western ethnology, but confronted by the global march of giant agro business, the world ignores it at our own peril.
In the case of pumpkins and watermelons, the Romani (a/k/a Gypsies) and traditionalist Serbs from Kosovo share various stratagems on how to avoid their garden vegetables being rendered into preternatural abominations by vampirization. However disturbing the former prospect, it will come as no surprise to any organic vegetable gourmand that Kosovians warn:
Vegetables must be eaten within 10 days of maturing, or they can turn vampire. Romani, and Serbs who know, say that a mature pumpkin or watermelon that has lain under a full moon will begin to show blood-red droplets on its outer shell. With watermelons, there are cracks and small scarlet seeps, reminiscent of the thin, bloodstained lips of a human vampire.
Others hold that a pumpkin kept past Christmas will turn dangerous as well. The 10-day rule may be a no-brainer for leafy vegetables, berries and fruits, but in late summer, a watermelon might keep through Labor Day, but not into spring, like a pumpkin. They say the Chinese call pumpkins “King of the Garden.” Furthermore, our modern Halloween “pumpkin head” is a latter-day substitute for the human skulls venerated by our (or somebody’s) Celtic ancestors. So, in a dust-up between pumpkins and watermelons, it’s a sure bet which one is the odds-on favorite.
According to Vulkanovica’s interviews about vampire lore in general, it constitutes demonic possession, which can take hold of anything—animate or inanimate. (This leads inevitably to questions about the possession of Mickey’s broom in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is another story.)
In the hierarchy of vampirism, humans are the most deadly and greatly feared. Animal vampires? Pretty scary, too! Vampire veggies are B-team scary, though they can inflict enough harm to inspire dread in impressionable individuals. An encounter with an aggressive watermelon or pumpkin might trip a person descending the porch steps, or drop on one’s head while sleeping.
Worse still, that kind of blunt-force trauma might be compounded by the teeth of a western-style jack-o’-lantern. Even to the less finely tuned sensibility, having a malevolent vegetable thumping into their shins can be a painful annoyance. Fortunately, it’s one that can be easily cured by catching the “possessed” and wrestling it into a cauldron of boiling water. After the boiling water, the once revenant fruit is smashed in pieces, then swept clean of any lingering evil. Last of all, the shattered pieces of cucurbit are scattered, the broom is burned, and the ashes no doubt sifted into running water.
At first glance, one must admit there is something unlikely about pumpkins or watermelons, much less carrots or eggplants, rambling around aggressively hoolygoolying Romani or Serbian farmers. On the other hand, who, picking up frozen veggies at the supermarket, finds the Jolly Green Giant unlikely? The Balkan experience suggests that the etiology of vampire veggies may just be the equivalent of the Jolly Green Giant being possessed by an evil spirit. As civilized westerners, we never consider that demonic possession is more than a human affliction.
To most people, this is not a comforting prospect. America’s reputation as the land of plenty, where our epic commoditization of produce fills caravans of behind-store dumpsters, may no longer be to our eternal glory. How much attention should we be paying to our castoff veggies? Common sense says that we might be making our society into a hotbed for vegetable vampires.
This Halloween’s observances offer an auspicious occasion for bipartisan efforts by congressmen and senators alike to consider the formation of a new federal agency with a mandate to consume, distribute and preserve outdated or moon-truck produce vulnerable to vampirification.
In the meantime, we Americans should be aware of suspicious activities in places likely to be frequented by pumpkins, watermelons or any other castoff produce. Our children should be aware that with Devil’s Eve in the offing, if they don’t eat their veggies, their veggies might eat them.