There are lots of reasons to love autumn, even as we bask in a familiar Southern California heat wave. Pumpkins is one of them. Is there a more beautiful color or form in nature? It’s hard to beat them for sheer beauty.
At the San Juan Capistrano Farmers Market, an array of arrestingly gorgeous pumpkins caught my eye. At the sight of them—some glowing white, some mottled with dark green, others deeply-grooved light gray-green, another flattish and deep orange—I knew my front porch was going to be decorated with many of them.
Most years I lug home lots of them from Northern California. Not necessary this year, thanks to the not-so-little project of Carlene Bonar of Tustin. A former O.C. teacher, Bonar is not an ag person per se, but her daughter Wendy left the county to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and married farmer Jeff Yribarren, who grows in Kerman, near Fresno. (The couple recently branched out from vegetables with their Yribarren Family Vineyards.)
Meghan Penn, one of the organizing founders of the Saturday Old Towne Orange Farmers and Artisans Market (which, while I’m on the subject, has new hours beginning Nov. 5: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), is a childhood friend of Wendy Yribarren’s, and gave Bonar the pumpkin idea. At his mother-in-law’s request, Jeff devoted an acre to heirloom and unusual pumpkins, resulting in 38,000 pounds of multicolored stock ranging from adorably teensy ones to quite large, unearthly white Polar Bear, a smooth-skinned, new variety. Bonar and husband Fred haul the pumpkins from Kerman to Orange County themselves, in a shiny trailer borrowed from their son. Altogether, a lovely, kind of New-Age, family farm story.
In addition to the decorative and the unusual, Bonar also has fine “regular” jack o’ lantern types with sturdy stem handles, and medium-size Rockafellows that are perfect for pie making. Plenty of the heirlooms are delicious to eat. Visit the Yribarren stand at an O.C. farmers market and ask Carlene about their uses—she knows her pumpkins. (I’ll have a fabulous recipe from Carlene in Taste of Orange County next week.) Prices vary; little ones are three for $5 and exotics are $8, with some larger specimens a bit more.
You can find Carlene Bonar and her pumpkins at Orange County farmers markets through October, and possibly into November, including: Tuesdays at the Irvine Historic Park; Wednesday mornings in Tustin; afternoons in San Juan Capistrano; Thursday mornings at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa; evenings at the Fullerton downtown market (last day of the season is Oct. 27); Fridays at Laguna Hills; Saturdays in Old Towne Orange; and Sundays at Laguna Niguel.