Monday, 11 February 2013

High Velocity Pumpkins: Punkin Chunkin in Delaware



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It was only by chance that we heard about Punkin Chunkin, when I mentioned to a friend that we were considering a drive over to the Delaware coast.

"You should look up when the pumpkin thing is on," he said. "But you might already have missed it."

This was before I'd grown accustomed to America's pumpkin obsession, and I wondered what kind of pumpkin-related spectacle there could possibly be. Even when he explained that the goal was to fire pumpkins across a field, I certainly couldn't have imagined the industrial scale of Punkin Chunkin. This is no idle hobby. These air cannons, which shoot their pumpkin ammunition to crash down over a mile away, are the length of an articulated lorry and must cost a fortune to build and maintain. Spectators are kept back from the whirling centrifuges and vast trebuchets by nets as well as a fence-line.

We knew we had to go if we could - and thankfully, we hadn't missed it.

Arriving in Delaware, we see vast fields full of bright orange pumpkins, and roadside grocers selling more of the same, as well as a variety of other gourds and squashes. Huge signs point us towards the day's events, and in to the muddy car park. As we crunch across a pavement of corn husks, laid down to soak up the remaining dampness left by Hurricane Sandy (which delayed the event's start by one day), the atmosphere is festive. Local musicians play bouncy folk tunes, and later there will be a beauty pageant and a chili cook-off. Food stalls abound, offering mostly deep-fried delicacies: the one vegetarian meal I find is a selection of battered onions, mushrooms, courgette (zucchini), and cauliflower florets.

But there will be time to soak up the carnival later. First we have to see high-velocity pumpkins whooshing through the air. Or, as it turns out, fail to see them, as they fly away from us with such incredible speed. For the air cannon, usually all that I can spot is the puff of smoke which signals a successful firing - followed by the commentator filling in time while men in jeeps and quad bikes hunt around in the field to see how far the pumpkin flew. One unsuccessful attempt, possibly the result of an over-ripe fruit, results in a rather more visible spray of pumpkin innards, and a much-applauded score of zero.

If I'm perfectly honest, one air cannon is much like another. The huge spinning-wheels are more entertaining to watch, whipping their pumpkins round and around before releasing them into the sky. They don't go as far, but at least we might see a flash of orange - or, bizarrely, white - before the missile disappears from view. Distances are announced over the loudspeaker, but without a specific team to cheer for, we care less for the results than for the experience. With pumpkin funnel cake firmly in hand, surrounded by cheerful Americans with pumpkin hats and pumpkin t-shirts, there could hardly be a more entertaining way to celebrate the pumpkin season.

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4 comments:

BECKY said...

Oh, Rachel! How fun that you were able to witness this crazy event! I've seen it on TV, but I'm sure it's 10 times better when you're there in person!

Slamdunk said...

That would be awesome. At our local pumpkin festival they shoot pumpkins, corn cobs, and potatoes--much smaller weaponry though.

Rachel said...

It sounds like a peculiar but entertaining day!

Charlotte Klein said...

This is something I've heard about but have forgotten over the years. I'd love to attend, too (I'm a sucker for weird, eccentric roadside attractions). Also pumpkin funnel cake sounds absolutely amazing. I'd probably go for that alone :)

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