Julie Benson has written five novels for Harlequin American, and her Wishing, Texas series is available from Tule Publishing. Now that her three sons have left the nest in Dallas, when she isn't writing, Julie spends her time working on home improvement projects, rescuing dogs, and visiting Texas wineries with her husband. Visit her at www.juliebenson.net.
This year the release of the PSL (pumpkin spice latte—a new acronym I learned this week—) was August 24. As I sat writing in Starbucks, I wondered how we went from my childhood of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread around the holidays to the pumpkin/pumpkin spice frenzy of today. That made me curious about the history of pumpkins, and to the internet I went.
To my surprise, pumpkins are fruit. (Sidebar, so are all squash, eggplants, avocados, and cucumbers. And, so you can answer the why question, it’s because those plant have seeds and the items we eat develop from the flower-producing part of the plant. Botanically that makes them fruit.) Archaeologists believe pumpkins originated in Central America 7,500 years ago, but unlike todays, those were small and had a bitter taste. (Which again makes me wonder how they caught on for food!)
Despite that beginning, a recipe for a side dish with diced pumpkin was published in New-England’s Rarities Discovered, in America in the 1670s. After that, women developed more pumpkin recipes. Serving sweet pumpkin dishes during the holidays didn’t start until the 1800s. However, the first pies were scooped out pumpkins filled with a ginger-spiced milk, then roasted by the fire. Hmmm, an early PSL?
Fun pumpkin facts:
Antarctica is the only content where pumpkins aren’t grown.
Pumpkin seeds (each pumpkin has around 500) can be roasted, then salted and eaten. The flowers are also edible.
Pumpkin, which are 90% water, contains carotenoids which are good for eyes and neutralizes free radicals that can attack cells.
Pumpkins are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin which could reduce cataract formation and risk of macular degeneration. They also contain potassium, vitamin A, iron, zinc, and fiber.
Irish immigrant brought the tradition of Jack-O’-Lanterns to the U.S., but instead of using turnips or potatoes, they used the American pumpkins.
In the United States, the heaviest pumpkin was grown in New Hampshire (2018) and weighed 2,528 pounds.
In 2010 a pumpkin pie was baked in Ohio weighing 3,699 pounds and over 20 feet in diameter.
Early American settlers cut pumpkin shells into strips, dried them, and wove them into mats.
Morton, Illinois is called the ‘Pumpkin Capital of the World’ and the home to Libby’s pumpkin industry. Illinois also grows the most pumpkins.
Pumpkins were once a remedy for freckles and snakebites.
Yesterday my Pinterest feed was filled with pumpkin recipes. My research didn’t really explain how we went from the first pumpkins to the craze we see today. But maybe the answer has something to do with the following Pilgrim verse, circa 1633.
For pottage and puddings and custards and pies Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies, We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon, If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.”
I may not have satisfied my original curiosity, but at least now you can astound and stun your friend and family with your amazing pumpkin knowledge this Thanksgiving!
To be entered in today’s random drawing for Howdy Fall T-shirt, tell me what’s your favorite pumpkin recipe or what fun fact surprised you the most. Happy (almost) Fall, Y’all!
After I sold my first two books to Harlequin, I started seeing cool horseshoe stuff on Pinterest. Crosses, Christmas trees, reindeer, wine racks, even tables, benches, and chandeliers! I couldn’t do those things because they required welding. ? But there were other items that I thought, heck, I’m crafty. I can do that. Like the cross here that hangs on my patio. For my I “free choice” day, I’m going to walk you through how to decorate a horseshoe like the first simple one I made for my office.
The cool thing about this craft is you can make it simple like my first one or as elaborate as you want. It’s all up to you and your imagination. The other great thing is you can use those single beads you don’t know what to do with.
What you’ll need:
Horseshoe (old or new depending on your preference) nails removed
Feathers, pendants, charms or anything else you’d like to add
Ribbon (if you want a bow)
If I’m adding a bigger item in the center, like the cross and other dangle above, I select beads that coordinate with those. I found these at a local craft store for three or four dollars. I usually prefer a copper or dull gold wire that doesn’t stand out unless my embellishments are silver. I 20-gauge wire, but use whatever fits through your beads or what you have on hand.
Slip the wire through a nail hole and bend it to secure as in the above picture. Then just start playing with the wire and beads. To get the curls I wrap the wire around a regular pencil. (See below) For smaller curls, I’ve used those tiny screwdrivers. Keep adding bead, wrapping, and twisting until you get what you like. Add charms or feathers, and twine or wire in the center. Whatever you envision. It’s easy to undo something if you decide you don’t like the look.
Here’s how my demonstration has turned out so far. I can’t decide if it needs something else or not, but not bad for less than a thirty minutes working on it. You can either add twine, chain, or ribbon to hang your horseshoe. Or you can mount it on a board the way I did with the courage, strength, and hope one. I’ve seen horseshoes put on boards with great sayings such as “Ride…as far as your dreams will take you” or my favorite “Live like someone left the gate open.” I think that may be my next quick project. Just remember to hang your horseshoe with the open end up to keep the luck from running out and to allow it to be refilled!
To see the cool horseshoe designs and items I’ve found on Pinterest, click here.
If it’s a fortune to mail the horseshoe above for the giveaway, I’ll send the beads I wired, plus more wire and beads, the dream catcher and twine. You supply the horseshoe. Whichever, it will come with a copy of Roping the Rancher, my story set on an equestrian therapy ranch. To be entered in today’s random giveaway, comment on what you think of items made from horseshoes or what’s your favorite? Or, ask me a question about my directions if something wasn’t clear.
Now I’m off to see who offers a welding class. A horseshoe end table would be fantastic…
That’s what my house felt like this June when my air condition conked out. When the temperature hit over 85 degrees inside, I wondered how people in the old west handled the summer heat. How did they stay cool? Or rather as cool as possible? Staying warm in the winter I can image as the upstairs bedrooms in my grandparents’ northern Iowa farmhouse lacked heat. We piled on the layers during the day and stayed in the room with the gas furnace. At night, we bundled up and slept under a huge pile of blankets. But summer? There’s only so much folks can take off before they get thrown in jail for indecent exposure!
Here’s what I found when I researched the subject. Folks wore loose fitting cotton clothing like the couple above that “breathed” allowing air in and sweat to dry which also helped keep them cool. I’ve got to admit, I’ve found some fabrics cooler than others. Western settlers also woke before the sun and accomplished the majority of their work before the heat of the day hit. After that they either napped or took a dip in an irrigation ditch, or canal. I’m not sure how I feel about those based on the picture above. They don’t sound like the most fantastic swimming holes. I’d prefer a nearby lake, stream, or spring.
Settlers learned to include shady breezeways in their houses. Thick walls of grassy sod and the same material covering the wood roof helped keep the structures cooler. The downside of this was sod houses let bugs in. Ugh. Not a great choice—being hotter or dealing with bugs. Many soaked their bedsheets in water before sleeping. Others slept outside to take advantage of the breeze. Kitchens were lean-to structures which allowed some heat to dissipate. But this didn’t help cooks much who still had to cope with it being ten to twenty degrees warmer at the cookstove.
Around the 1870s to 1880s, ice could be shipped in by railcar. However, it was so expensive few regular folk could afford it. Fans weren’t common either. There were some powered by foot treadles, but they were mostly used by businesses, offices, or the wealthy.
That’s what I discovered. In the old west during summer folks dressed in loose, lightweight cotton, drank a lot of water, rested during the day, slept outside, or on wet bedsheets to cope with the3 heat. I suspect it made for quite a few cranky people. I sure was a bit short on patience when we lost AC!
To be entered in my random giveaway for a copy of The Rancher and the Vet, a car rearview mirror charm, and a drink sleeve, leave a comment on your favorite way to keep cool in summer. Other than staying inside, that is!
Thanks to everyone who stopped by on Game Day! Y’all had some great ideas on how to get my cowboy Rory to NYC to model. Here’s what I did. His mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and needed experimental treatment. Insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. Not only that, but the treatment was in another state. Rory’s mother would have to fly there each month for treatment. He agreed to model to save his mother.
Now for what you really want to know. The winner of the Hold Your Horses T-shirt and a copy of Big City Cowboy is:
Congratulations. Look for an email from me on how to claim your prize.
Again, thanks to everyone who stopped by to play and spend time with me today.
Howdy! Glad to see you at the corral for today’s word search. I’m also doing a giveaway for a Hold Your Horses T-shirt and a copy of Big City Cowboy, the first book I sold. All you have to do is leave a comment to be entered in the drawing.
To give you a topic to comment on and because we all can use a Monday morning pick me up, I’m starting off with a photo of the cowboy who inspired me to write Big City Cowboy. Our guide on a horseback ride in Estes Park, Colorado, when we arrived, a man from NYC was trying to talk this Colorado cowboy into modeling. Would you believe he had no idea why people would ask him that and why they wouldn’t take no for an answer. (My reaction–Had he looked in a mirror lately?!) What reason can you think of that would leave a cowboy leave his ranch for the Big Apple to model? Leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway.
Now for the word search. Find these words related to cowboys. To play, click here.
The older I get the more grateful I am for what my grandmothers taught me. I wish I could spend one more day with each of them to ask all the life, history, and family questions I was too young to know would be important later.
Most of the recipes I’ve shared with you were my Grandma Walter’s. I wish I’d made time to write down more of them while she cooked. As my birthday approaches, I remember the times I was on the farm in July. She would ask what I wanted for a birthday cake, and my response was always the same. I wanted her angel food cake with fresh strawberries mashed so they were all syrupy. She also gave me a love of gardening, though my thumb is more brown than green like hers was. I took a sewing class in high school (and still use those skills) because she sewed. From her I learned how women could be quiet, patient, and still possess an indominable strength.
My father’s mother, my Grandma Ryan, possessed a more obvious strength. Widowed young, she raised four sons. With three grown sons, I can’t begin to imagine how daunting and scary that must have been. I wish now I’d asked her how she managed. She remarried, but her second husband died when I was a toddler, leaving her with a general store to run in a town of less than five hundred people. She had breast cancer before I was born and bone cancer as long as I can remember. Through all that, she never complained or thought God was punishing her with these trials. She loved to play cards and would sit with my brother and I playing her current favorite card game. From her I learned to laugh and that a woman could make a life for herself. But the best gift my Grandma Ryan gave me was, making me feel special. As one of only two granddaughters, she made no secret she loved us just a bit more.
No wonder grandparents play such guiding, supportive roles in many of my books. In my most recent release, To Marry a Texas Cowboy, Zane carries a plane full of family baggage. After divorcing, his parents concentrated on their new lives and families. Zane became collateral damage and part of a past they wanted to forget. Who stepped in to fill the void and create the hero I fell in love with the minute he walked on the page as a friend in To Love A Texas Cowboy? His grandparents.
My Grandma Ryan spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas with us, but rarely cooked. Today I’m sharing a recipe she gave me. This one, referred to as “frozen salad,” is easy and great for these hot summer days. Two notes about it. First, while we called it a salad, it could be served as dessert, and second, watch out for brain freeze eating it straight out of the freezer! I prefer to give it a minute or two to thaw some before eating.
1 can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1 can cherry pie filling
1 lg. can crushed pineapple (drained)
¼ tsp almond extract
¼ C lemon juice
1 12 oz container Cool Whip (thawed)
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Place in 8 x 8 freezer safe container overnight.
Giveaway: To be entered in today’s random drawing for the USA y’all T-shirt and a signed copy of To Marry a Texas Cowboy, leave a comment about something you learned from a grandparent or significant older person in your life.