Friday, August 14, 2015


   It took a forklift and a cargo net to remove the massive vegetable from Jim Beauchemin's Goffstown, New Hampshire, pumpkin patch.
   But from a padded perch at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts, the gourd placed Beauchemin on top of New England's giant pumpkin world.
   His pumpkin became the New England champion when it tipped the scales at a hefty 1,314.8 pounds.
   "The Topsfield Fair is the elite weigh-off in the country," Beauchemin said. "To win it—I call it the pinnacle of my growing years. That's why we do it, the hope of someday winning a title."

How to "Go Heavy"

   Beauchemin is part of a growing group of giant-pumpkin aficionados who thrill at watching a well-tended pumpkin swell to massive proportions.
"You plant a seed the size of your fingernail and end up with a thousand-pound {450-kilogram] pumpkin," said George Hoomis, director of the New England Giant Pumpkin Growers Association. "That's incredible."
   Pumpkins grow in the cool of the evening, so New England's climate offers prime conditions for "going heavy."
   Still, cultivating a giant takes at least an hour or two of daily tending during the five- to six-month growing season.

   Gardeners spend that time carefully pruning, prepping soil, and keeping a sharp lookout for the twin banes of gardeners: pests and diseases.
   The pumpkins begin to germinate indoors in late April. Beauchemin's champion pumpkin moved outside under protective cover in May. By mid-July it was only the size of a golf ball.
   During an explosive growth spurt in August, the pumpkins may suck up nearly 50 gallons (190 liters) of water a day. In a single ten-day period they can pack on up to 35 pounds (16 kilograms) a day.
It's thrilling but a little scary to a degree as well, because that's when they'll split open," Beauchemin explained.

   Growing a champion takes discipline during the long season.
"You're basically locked in for the summer, you're not going too far," Hoomis said. "You don't like to leave them, because a lot of things can happen."

Gotta Be the Seeds

   You don't become a heavy hitter with seeds from just any leftover jack-o'-lantern. Champion pumpkins come from championship stock. Most serious competitors use the "Dill's Atlantic Giant" seed variety, produced in Windsor, Nova Scotia, by pumpkin legend Howard Dill.
   Dill is a former world-record holder. His 1979 champion pumpkin weighed in at 438.5 pounds (199 kilograms)—a mere dwarf by today's standards.

   "A few people started getting seeds from Howard," said Hoomis of the growers association. "It was probably like eight or ten guys to begin with.
"Now just because you've got a bunch of backyard growers who are cross-pollinating, sharing seeds and information, we're closing in on [growing a pumpkin that weighs] 1,500 pounds [680 kilograms]."

Friendly Rivals

   The world record has fallen annually in recent years. The current champ is Larry Checkon of North Cambria, Pennsylvania. He won with a 1,469-pound  gourd at the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh-Off in October.
   Competitions in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Germany attract thousands of growers.

   "Once you grow a thousand-pound pumpkin once or twice, you're kind of recognized as a heavy hitter," Beauchemin, the New England record holder, said.
   The increasingly crowded field includes many friendly rivals. Every spring growers from all over the world attend a Canadian seminar where people talk about pumpkins, play poker for valuable seeds, drink beer, and generally have a good time.
 "The pumpkins are great," Hoomis said, "but over the years we've met hundreds of the nicest people."
Beauchemin says that aspiring champions will find plenty of experts willing to help them get started.
   "We work together instead of against each other," he said. "Obviously you want to win at the weigh-off, but during the season we help each other. By helping each other, we all get better."


   Competitive growers aren't the only people fascinated by giant gourds. Pumpkin displays and weigh-offs are huge draws for fairgoers.
   "Fair organizers say that the two questions that they are always asked are 'Where's the bathroom?' and 'Where is the giant pumpkin?'" Hoomis said. "And not necessarily in that order."
   Shape, color, and aesthetics have no importance, which is a good thing, as most giant pumpkins lack the shape and form of their smaller relatives.
   Weight is the only quality a champion pumpkin needs to possess. Heavy rinds make heavy pumpkins, but those aren't always apparent at a glance.

 "We always leave the three biggest ones for last," said Hoomis, who runs the nationally heralded weigh-off at the Topsfield Fair.
   "Chances are that they will be the heaviest. But out of those last three the smallest one could be the heaviest."
    The last chance to see Beauchemin's champion pumpkin is drawing nigh. This Saturday it will become New England's largest jack-o'-lantern—just in time for Halloween.


   La Tomatina is a festival that is held in the Valencian town of Buñol, in which participants throw tomatoes at each other. It is held the last Wednesday in August, during the week of festivities of Buñol.

Changes Throughout Its History

   The tomato fight has been a strong tradition in Buñol since 1944 or 1945. No one is completely certain how this event originated. Possible theories on how the Tomatina began include a local food fight among friends, a juvenile class war, a volley of tomatoes from bystanders at a carnival parade, a practical joke on a bad musician, the anarchic aftermath of an accidental lorry spillage. One of the most popular theories is that disgruntled townspeople attacked city councilmen with tomatoes during a town celebration.
   In 1950, the council allowed the party to happen. The next year however it was not approved, thanks to pressure from town residents and other participants.
When the festival was finally officially sanctioned, the launching of tomatoes became inventive. Methods such as using water canons, catapults and filling of fountains of rivals became common. Between the noise and chaos, participants typically primed

with those who were mere spectators, including local personalities. By 1957 the festival was once again banned with strict penalties, including imprisonment, threatened against those flouting the ban. In that year, the neighborhood decided to organize what they called "the funeral of the tomato", which came in a procession carrying a coffin with a great tomato, accompanied by a band playing funeral marches along the path.
   Due to local pressure, in 1959 the town finally approved the Tomatina, but imposed a rule that people could only throw tomatoes after a horn sounded and should end when it sounded a second time.
   Between 1975 and 1980 the festival was organized by the ordeal of San Luis Bertran, who supplied the tomatoes, replacing the previous arrangement of participants bringing their own. The party became popular in Spain thanks to Javier Basilio reporting the issue in the RTVE Informe Semanal in 1983.

   Since 1980 the City Council provides participants with tomatoes, each year a greater tonnage than the previous year. Visitors became attracted to the event and in 2002 it was declared a Fiesta of International Tourist Interest. In 2008 a soundtrack was created, the song of the Tomatina "Todo es del mismo color" created by the bunyolense rock band "Malsujeto".


   At around 10am festivities begin with the first event of the Tomatina. It is the "palo jabón", similar to the greasy pole. The goal is to climb a greased pole with a ham on top. As this happens, the revellers work into a frenzy of singing and dancing whilst being showered in water from hoses. Once someone is able to drop the ham off the pole, the start signal for the tomato fight is given. The signal for the onset is at about 11 when a loud shot rings out, and the chaos begins.

   Several trucks throw tomatoes in abundance in the Plaza del Pueblo. The tomatoes come from Extremadura, where they are less expensive and are grown specifically for the holidays, being of inferior taste.  For the participants the use of goggles and gloves are recommended. The tomatoes must be crushed before being thrown so as to reduce the risk of injury.

After exactly one hour, the fight ends with the firing of the second shot, announcing the end. The whole town square is coloured red and rivers of tomato juice flow freely. Fire Trucks hose down the streets and participants use hoses that locals provide to remove the tomato paste from their bodies. Some participants go to the pool of “los peñones” to wash. After the cleaning, the village cobblestone streets are pristine due to the acidity of the tomato disinfecting and thoroughly cleaning the surfaces.

   La Tomatina Buñol has inspired other similar celebrations in other parts of the world:

  • Since 2004 the Colombian town of Sutamarchán holds a similar event on the 15th of June when a surplus of tomatoes is harvested.
  • In Costa Rica the town of San José de Trojas (Valverde Vega Canton) celebrates a tomatine during the local Tomato Fair in February.

In the town of Dongguan in southern Guangdong province in China, a tomato fight is held on the 19th of October, during which they use up to 15 tons of tomatoes.

  • The City of Reno, Nevada in the United States also has an annual hour long tomato fight that started in 2009. The event seems to take place on the last Sunday of August, and is organized by the American Cancer Society. Organizers also named the festival La Tomatina, and give full credit for the idea to the Spanish festival.
  • On February 12, 2011, at the field of Esparraguera, town of Quillón, VIIIth Region, Chile, the first version of the Great Tomato War was held under the auspices of the local municipality and a private firm. Like the spanish Tomatina, it was a playful battle involving young people.

The video game company Namco included in the 6th installment of the saga Tekken fighting game, a scenario that mimics the Tomatina buñolense.

  • The festival was recreated for the song Ik Junoon (Paint it red) from the 2011 Hindi film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.