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Richard’s Almanac: Pumpkins, cider and mazes, oh my!

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Long Island cheese pumpkins.

Have you noticed how Halloween is marked these days?

Or should I say the Halloween season? After all, the official date for ghosts and goblins is October 31, the day before All Saints Day on November 1. But the season of pumpkins begins around the last week in September and runs through the month of October.

Anyone driving on the North Fork from Riverhead on weekends will report on the stuffed roadways. As one radio announcer put it, “Everyone west of the William Floyd Parkway will be out here on Columbus Day weekend.”

We had guests coming here for that weekend and it took them a few hours to get from the end of the Long Island Expressway to Greenport.

It seems that everybody with a patch of land will set up a lean-to and sell pumpkins, apples, cider and donuts. Sometimes jellies and baked goods are available and most are said to be homemade.

If the entrepreneur has significant acreage and has grown pumpkins, families with young children can wander the field and choose the best pumpkins — I use the plural because no one seems to be happy with just one good-sized pumpkin. Multiple pumpkins are the order of the day and used to create huge displays on front lawns.

In addition to pumpkins, these displays will contain chrysanthemums, a few cornstalks and maybe some Dollar Store items that express the season like scarecrows, witches and tombstones. Now I don’t consider myself an old grump but the tombstones really creep me out!

Then there are the larger farms that fall into the category of “agritainment.” These places offer Coney Island type activities. I have seen catapults that send pumpkins through the air to be smashed when they land — maybe that’s how the ‘90s rock group’s name came about? I don’t know.

These larger venues all seem to have the requisite corn maze and maybe a small apple orchard.

So a family outing with the little ones in tow can be fulfilling even for the grandparents who choose to go. There’ll be plenty of hot cider, donuts, apples and pumpkins to take home. Don’t do this too early though. The pumpkins will shrivel, the donuts will be eaten and the apples will get soft.

I drove upstate last weekend and noticed that the proliferation of “pumpkin parks” as I’ll call them, is not just limited to eastern Long Island. Places that were large fields are now pumpkin parks and cider dispensaries. It’s a way to get some revenue from your empty land.

This all reminded me how we used to mark Halloween here some 40 years ago when my children were young. They were ages 5, 4 and 3. The oldest was in kindergarten here, the 4-year-old was in Mrs. Klen’s pre-school and the youngest stayed home with mom.

We’d plan a good pumpkin day close to Halloween. So when I returned from work around 3:30 p.m., I’d pile them into the Radio Flyer red wagon and pull them down West Neck Road to Helen Wallingford’s vegetable stand. We’d spend time trying to pick out the best pumpkin. There were always differing opinions but finally we’d settle on a good-sized one. That one would go in the wagon and one of the kids would walk home.

When we’d arrive home — it was getting dark — mom would have hot chocolate and brownies ready for us. And the pumpkin was carved that night!