One of the most ubiquitous signs of the season is creeping into your consciousness. So, why not embrace the humble pumpkin and make it part of this season’s traditions, from home decor and family outings to the very elements of your dinner table?
By now, you’ve seen it start to slowly creep into your neighbor’s yard, your local coffee shop… maybe even your own house.
Fall is here.
Whether you’re pining for summer or so excited you’re about to spill your pumpkin spice latte, autumn brings an abundance of fall-flavored fun.
Many find joy in gobbling up everything pumpkin, be it flavored coffee, desserts, or the candles and soaps they use in their homes.
Others enjoy the entertainment that comes along with fall: festivals, days at the pumpkin farm, or gatherings with family and friends in the comfort of their seasonally decorated home.
“Most people find fall an energizing time of the year,” says Patrice Aguirre, who owns Cafe Revive in Elgin with her husband, Jesus. “It’s fresh and crisp. I think people want to celebrate that before the long winter, and pumpkin is just so indicative of that time. And pumpkin can be a savory or sweet treat.”
Here are some entertaining ways to mix in pumpkins and fall colors to your family fall-time fun.
In Your Neighborhood
There are many quintessential fall festivals and activities around our region, and one not to miss is the St. Charles Scarecrow Fest.
More than 100,000 people flock to St. Charles each October to see the downtown dressed in fall decor. There are tons of pumpkins to be seen, and even professional carvers on hand, along with restaurants showcasing their best fall-flavored dishes.
But the showstopper is the strawmen.
“The biggest draw of the festival is our more than 100 uniquely handcrafted scarecrows on display,” says Alyssa Feulner, marketing manager for the St. Charles Business Alliance, the organization behind this annual event. The alliance was recently formed from a merger between the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Downtown St. Charles Partnership. “It’s not your average scarecrow on a pole with a little flannel shirt and hat.”
Scarecrows are entered into six categories, including “mega” and “mechanical,” which means some displays make a huge visual impact and others have incredible moving parts.
“Seeing the creativity of the scarecrows, you can tell they’ve taken months to put these things together,” says Feulner. “You would never expect someone to put together a mechanical scarecrow. And sometimes it’s not just one, it’s a whole scene of six of them all interacting together.”
The fest takes place from Friday, Oct. 11, through Sunday, Oct. 13, at Lincoln Park in St. Charles. Activities include a make-your-own-scarecrow booth, the Autumn on the Fox Arts and Crafts Show (located at nearby Pottawatomie Park), a carnival and live entertainment.
That same weekend, Crystal Lake’s Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center hosts a Build-a-Scarecrow event at its greenhouse. For $5, patrons can build their own scarecrow with straw and twine. Just bring some strawman clothes and creativity.
And of course, don’t miss the pumpkin farms. Many offer special rides and activities, but all of them provide lasting family memories.
Kuipers Family Farm, in Maple Park, features a 71-acre pumpkin patch, along with a 160-acre apple orchard. Visitors also enjoy the farm’s corn maze, tractor train, jumping pillow, pig races and much more.
The whole point of heading to a farm is to enjoy the experience, says Kim Kuipers, who owns the farm with her husband, Wade.
“It’s nice to go to the farm where a pumpkin was grown and know it was grown there,” she says. “I think people really get an immediate emotional attachment when they go out in the field and they find ‘their’ pumpkin.”
New this year is the addition of a free pumpkin with paid admission.
Kuipers Pumpkin Farm and its corn maze are open daily Sept. 21 through Oct. 30.
In Your Home
Autumn carries a sultry color palette, hues with names like persimmon, mustard, russet, crimson, amber and sepia.
Since so many homeowners have been lightening up their walls and fabrics with neutral grays, they can take a chance on deeper seasonal colors, says Mary Meyn of Yours & Meyn, Simply Designed in Crystal Lake.
“We chose to bring in much richer, deeper colors,” she says of her store’s fall inventory. “Deep cinnamon browns, more earthy instead of super bright; not necessarily the bright, bright oranges and yellows. We were able to bring in some taupe-y grays to complement that, and olive colors as well.”
The easiest way to incorporate those colors into your home is to focus on small, accessory items like pillows, throws, living room table decorations and other transitional items, especially ones that can be used during the next season with just a few tweaks, Meyn says. That could be a wreath that sports fall colors now, but with a few minor changes – different flowers, a new fabric woven in – it can hang through Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well.
This is the time of year you won’t want to skimp on quality when it comes to decor.
“We’re the Midwest – we love our fall – so I have found people are looking for better quality, because that’s the season they keep decor up for a much longer period of time,” Meyn says. “In spring, people will change those decorative items around a little more often. But in fall, we start with one layer of decor, and then we add a bit more for Thanksgiving. We really try to help our customers elongate the fall season and utilize their decor from September all the way to Thanksgiving.”
In Your Dining Room
Once fall arrives, many families start thinking about the meals they’ll be serving with the holidays, namely Thanksgiving.
If you’re hosting a fall family gathering and don’t have a large enough table, there’s an easy solution.
“If you’ve got somebody looking at a table that doesn’t get used a lot, but they do still entertain, we recommend you get a table that accommodates as many leaves as possible,” says Robert Wozniak, owner of Strode’s Furniture in Huntley.
And he’s not talking about what falls off the trees. Those tabletop extensions elongate your dinner table and better accommodate your evolving guest list.
“I have some tables that accommodate up to 12 leaves,” Wozniak says. “I would say that’s 18 feet – that’s a lot of people. I figure you could seat 20 people at least.”
Tables at Strode’s are custom-made, so it’s always best to order several leaves at the same time. It’s harder to have them made months or years down the line, Wozniak says.
Once you’ve got your table in place, kitchens and dining rooms are easy places to set the tone for fall. Simply replace a lighter summer linen with a fun plaid, Meyn says. Bring out those richer fall colors with napkins and placemats. And put away the white melamine cutting boards and bring out your wood cutting board. The rustic tones will fit right in with your deeper color palette.
You can make subtle changes to other large furniture pieces, too, like decorating a curio cabinet with leaves to accent fall colors, Wozniak says.
In Your Yard
Fall decor and landscaping are almost synonymous with pumpkins, but there are more than just orange varieties to choose from.
There are green pumpkins, white pumpkins, warty pumpkins – and don’t forget squash, those natural decorations that never seem to go out of style.
But broom corn and mums are also massively popular, says Marcy Cronin, marketing director of Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center in Crystal Lake.
“Broom corn is a big thing,” she says. “Customers like the decorative seed plumes. It has gorgeous colors. And it doesn’t attract critters to eat it.”
Mums, meanwhile, are the fall flowering plant and have been for a long time, Cronin says. It’s why Countryside grows 13,000 of them each year.
“There aren’t a lot of things that still bloom in fall, but mums are just coming into bloom, and many varieties last through fall,” she says. “The rich colors of mums – orange, yellow, purple, burgundy. Who wants to spend those pretty fall months with no color in the garden?”
There are other ways to beautify your yard for the season. Container plants that are mostly done for the season can be replaced with pansies, ornamental peppers and kale – plants that enjoy the moody fall weather.
“There are many different-colored kales: purple kales, kale that turns white or pink as the temperatures cool down,” says Cronin. “You have extended fall color just by changing out a few plants in your pots.”
In Your Belly
There’s something about a temperature drop that has us craving something different. Pumpkin farms and apple orchards take full advantage of those cravings.
“We have all the flavors you associate with fall: caramel apples, freshly pressed apple cider. Those flavors don’t seem quite as appealing when it’s 90 degrees out, but when it’s closer to 50, they sound fantastic,” says Kim Kuipers, of Kuipers Farm.
On Thursdays in September and October, Kuipers Family Farm specifically makes pumpkin donuts. But truth be told, a different treat tops them in popularity: apple cider donuts.
“They’ve taken on a life of their own,” says Kuipers. “I think the fact that you can only get them in the fall makes them that much more special. They’re the same recipe that we’ve been making since day one, and if we changed it, there would be a mutiny.”
On a busy weekend day, Kuipers will sell 2,500 dozen apple cider donuts, Kuipers says.
Move over, pumpkin spice?
Well, not quite, says Patrice Aguirre. Her Cafe Revive, located on the first floor of Dream Hall in downtown Elgin, has several original, in-house pumpkin drinks and treats, and they’re very well received.
First is the pumpkin pie latte, which features a homemade pumpkin spice syrup crafted from brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin puree.
“With the real pumpkin in it, it gives it a creamier, thicker texture,” Aguirre says. “You can actually taste the pumpkin in ours.”
Last year, patrons came in every day looking for that specific drink, so Aguirre and her husband extended its run into the winter season.
“Many people are just addicted to their coffee and love anything pumpkin spice,” she says. “We use a local roaster, and they’re very careful with how they roast their coffee. It goes well with a lot of different flavors.”
Cafe Revive does all of its baking in-house, so there’s always a pumpkin bread or muffin available in the fall, not to mention pumpkin hand pies and a delectable pumpkin cheesecake bar.
For those who need a break from pumpkin (gasp!), Cafe Revive offers additional fall-flavored items, including two other favorites: Hot Apple Cider and Golden Apple Cider, the latter of which includes turmeric, nutmeg, ginger and cardamom.
“It’s a good anti-inflammatory drink,” Aguirre says. “So, it’s delicious and gives you a little twist on apple cider, but it’s healthy for you, too. We like to keep things homemade and simple and try to have healthy options, so it’s not all sweet treats.”
There’s also butternut squash soup, barley and squash soup, and a butternut squash sandwich, featuring slices of pan-seared squash, gouda cheese, fresh greens, pickled red onions, and garlic and herbs aioli on a ciabatta roll.
“Some people are like, ‘Squash on a sandwich?’” says Aguirre. “People are more familiar now with vegetable sandwiches, but there are people you kind of have to convince – but they usually end up loving it.”