Updated: May 30, 2022
Rebecca Stoecker Holding a Ghost Pumpkin. Source: Author.
Each year, a pumpkin seed plunges into the earth and grows until it becomes Cinderella’s carriage or a kid’s jagged knifework makes it smile.
For the Baltimore percentage of the 146.44 million people Statista identified as U.S. pumpkin buyers and carvers, the annual October hunt begins beneath the Jones Falls expressway. Brittanica attributes the fall tradition to the legend of Stingy Jack, an anecdote passed down from parent to kid until the dawn of the Internet. According to legend, after he died, Jack was refused entrance to both heaven and hell because of the tricks he played on the devil during his lifetime, so he was cursed to roam the streets as a spirit among the living for all eternity. Jack O’ Lanterns are rumored to be filled with hellfire to light his path, repelling him from homes when placed outside of them. Though many today put knife to pumpkin with no intention of scaring Jack’s ghost away from their houses, the story is a testament to the power of intergenerational culture.
If you choose to start your pumpkin search at the Baltimore Farmers Market, follow your stomach to the cloud of kettle corn smoke haunting the table beside a man eclipsed by a sunflower bouquet.
Rebecca Stoecker, who runs a fourth-generation family farm with her brother, championed a pristine white pumpkin as she detailed her criteria for market eligibility. “You want them to be nice and white and pretty-looking.”
Commonly known as “ghost pumpkins,” the vendor’s most popular pumpkin sells best in its “jackie little” size, a popular choice for children. Its blemish-free face resembles the airbrushed cheeks that populate teen magazines, its lines as straight as artificially straightened teeth and stem delicate enough to fit in a size 0 hand.
It’s the Scarlett Johansson of the pumpkin world.
Since 1901, Rebecca’s family has built a vegetable empire, passing the farm from great-grandparent to grandparent to parent and great-grandchild.
Farms like the Stoeckers’ help populate kitchens where culture is celebrated through spoonfuls of pumpkin. Like family businesses, distinctive facial features, and surnames, recipes are familial time capsules that unite relatives across generations.
“At least, when my grandma cooks – in Spanish, it’s called ‘caldito’ – what is it in English?” A college student and first-time pumpkin customer pulled up Google Translate on her phone. She furrowed her brow, trying to formulate the most accurate translation. “Like a broth?”
As you start toward the fringes of the market, life will continue to swirl around you. Beside a bus with colorful tongues of clothing spilling out of its windows, two-foot-tall kids pound one-foot-tall drums. The tap, crash, bang of their disjointed rhythms knocks on the doors of each passerby’s heart, causing frowns to lift and laugh lines to wrinkle. The market is a bustling station for young and old, with crisp dollar bills serving as tickets to dozens of cultures and histories.
At the outer edge, you glance back to see a little girl, her wide eyes drinking in the colors splashed across purses and masks. You smile, eyes flitting in the direction of the kettle corn haze.
After four generations of devotion to family land, the first pumpkin of her lifetime could be waiting for her at a Stoecker Farms patch.