Jaci Stephen: ‘In LA in autumn, a Pumpkin Carving Kit is one of life’s essentials’

Way Out West
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The Independent Online

Before I moved to LA, I could think of no circumstances in which it would be necessary for me to purchase a Pumpkin Carving Kit. But then, before I moved to LA, I could think of no situation in adulthood (given that I don’t have kids) that would ever require me to go out and buy a pumpkin.

Pumpkins, like dolls, are something you grow out of. Every Halloween during my childhood, days would be spent hollowing out pumpkins with... well, what did they use before Pumpkin Carving Kits came into being? Chisels?

The work didn’t stop once you had removed the innards. Next, you had to make a mouth and two triangles for eyes – by which time you had usually made such a mess of it, you had to go out and buy another pumpkin.

If, as Shirley Conran said, life was too short to stuff a mushroom, it was certainly too short to hollow out a pumpkin. But this week, I found myself at my local Crate and Barrel, ardently trying to work out which tool did what in the Pumpkin Carving Kit – as I see it, you can prepare the thing in just marginally less time than it would take you to build a house – and contemplating Halloween.

It’s difficult to escape it here. My neighbour has a 20ft shroud in her garden, complete with an iron chain of Alcatraz proportions, and topped with an all-too-realistic skull.

On 1 October, everyone put pumpkins out – on their lawns, in their windows, on their steps. They are there for any closet pumpkin kleptomaniac to steal at any time, yet nobody touches them; they have an air of the holy relic about them, and people pass the best displays with reverent awe.

For me, it is just an excuse to buy another appliance that I will use once and then put in a drawer and forget about.

Williams Sonoma even beats Crate and Barrel in the pointless appliance department. In fact, so regular are my appearances there, I dreamt that I had created a successful TV detective series, the hero of which was called William Sonoma. I think it’s not a bad idea: he could solve a series of murders that had been committed with kitchen implements alone...

But I digress. I love Williams Sonoma. I love the French, country-style pasta dishes with paintings of vegetables; I love the rows of shiny toasters as big as baking ovens; I love the $2,000 dollar collections of saucepans that I pine for, as I contemplate the three egg-cup sized ones I bought from Ikea.

I specially love the emails they send me that have such an air of exotic mystery, I am back at the store within the hour to conduct further investigations on their latest ridiculous invention.

Take the “mandolin chipper”. Was it a mandolin-shaped contraption that chipped potatoes, or a machine that cut potatoes into the shape of baby mandolins? Or was it a machine for those odd occasions in life when you find yourself with an excess of mandolins in your closet and you say: “Oh, if only I had a mandolin chipper to reduce these down to trashable size”?

Whatever it was, I wanted that mandolin chipper. No: I had to have it. Unfortunately, I never made it to the store to see it, as I had to take back the pressure cooker I had bought from World Market because it didn’t work, and the mandolin chippers went like hot... er, potatoes? Mandolins?

Why I suddenly thought I needed a pressure cooker when I haven’t had one since I was a student, I don’t know, but they didn’t work then and they don’t work now. By the time I made it back to base, my detective was no longer featuring mandolin chippers as the definitive buy of the week. That will teach me to be nostalgic.

Williams Sonoma hasn’t been too hot in the pumpkin assassination department, though, hence my going to Crate and Barrel – although I have to confess to being slightly tempted by WS’s No-Bake Halloween Haunted House: an edible house, complete with icing “glue” and candy decorations of bats and ghosts.

I am not going quite so far as to organise my own party, although I might just knock on the door of the Addams Family with the skeleton garden shroud on the actual night.

Or I might just buy a pastry case, open a can of ready-puréed, ready-cooked pumpkin, bake a pie and watch Halloween on the telly. Who needs a Pumpkin Carving Kit when you have a tin-opener?

To read Jaci Stephen's blog LA-Not-So-Confidential, go to LAnotsoconfiden tial.blogspot.com