By Michelle Miller The Cooperstown Crier
---- — There are very few places one can go to see pumpkins that are actually large enough to be made into Cinderella’s carriage.
Cooperstown is an exception, however. Each year, giant pumpkins and other fruit are brought to the village to be weighed, judged, cooked, eaten, painted, carved and even raced.
PumpkinFest will return to Cooperstown this weekend. The two-day event, hosted by the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, will kick off Saturday as pumpkins and other fruit growers converge at Doubleday Field parking lot for a weigh-off. Food and merchandise vendors will also be on hand starting at 9 a.m. The weigh-off is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. and will feature growers from all over the northeast region.
The grower with the heaviest pumpkin will win $2,000 and a plaque. Other prizes will be handed out to participants.
Last year’s largest pumpkin tipped the scales at 1,509.5 pounds. The winner, grown by Pete Sweet of Great Barrington, Mass., did not break any record but it marked a personal best for the pumpkin grower. The world record belongs to Ron Wallace from Greene, R.I. In 2012, he grew a pumpkin that weighed a whopping 2,009 pounds, making it not only the largest pumpkin in history, but also the largest fruit ever grown in the world. The massive pumpkin took top honors at the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Mass.
There have not been any records broken in Cooperstown since David Hilsltolky of Wyoming, Pa., who broke his state’s record for the largest pumpkin with a 1,557-pound orange giant in 2009.
Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce Director Pat Szarpa said the growers have indicated that this has been challenging year for them because of the heavy rains early on in the season.
“It slowed the beginning progress of the growth, so there may not be as many massive ones as in the past,” she said. “There just was not enough time for them to get fattened up.”
Getting the pumpkins to grow huge is just half the battle. According to Szarpa, growers face many challenges just getting the pumpkins to Cooperstown. They can get punctured while moved or even burst, she said.
One exploded last year, Szarpa recalled. She said the pumpkin barely got off the truck when a hole was detected.
“Stuff just started gushing out,” she said. “And the smell was not pretty.”
It is hard to determine just how many pumpkins and other items from the garden will be entered into the weigh-off before the day of the event. “It’s a gamble,” according to Szarpa.
“We don’t know until last minute. There could be 20, 30 or as few as 15,” she said. “But I would like to anticipate on having about 30 pumpkins. We just really don’t know.”
Having smaller pumpkins wouldn’t be all bad because that could benefit the Regatta, according to Szarpa. She said the ideal size for the floating pumpkin boats that will be raced across Otsego Lake is 300 to 400 pounds. Squash have also been used in the past.
“We would like to have at least 15 pumpkins we can carve out and race Sunday morning,” she said.
Each year, some of the pumpkins are brought to Lakefront Park and carved into boats for local business owners, growers and community members to participate in a series of race heats. Lakefront Park will also feature a vendor marketplace with food, crafts, music and children’s games throughout the day.
Racing is set to begin at 11 a.m.and will be broadcast live at www.ustream.tv/channel/cooperstownchamber.
“The event has become very popular. In the past people had said they had a hard time getting a good spot to see the races. We want everyone to be able to enjoy the event,” Szarpa said.
The video will be available after the event.
There will be lots for families to see and do both days, according to Szarpa. She said a vendor marketplace, children’s games and pumpkin carving and decorating contest have been added to Saturday’s lineup of festivities. A performance of the comedy, “The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged,” is also set to take place after the weigh-off. Attendance to the performance is by donation.
PumpkinFest 2013 is sponsored in part by Otsego County Tourism, The Smithy Center for the Arts, The Farmers’ Museum, New York State Giant Pumpkin Growers Association, Benefit Specialists of New York, Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield, Carbone Auto Group, Bassett Healthcare Network, B&V Artworks, Hubbell Construction and TownSquare Media.
For more information about growing large pumpkins, visit nysgpga.com. For more information about PumpkinFest, visit cooperstownchamber.org.