National Lobster Day!

In honor of National Lobster Day, here are a few fascinating lobster facts according to Maine Lobster Now.  (If you visit their website, you can order your own!)

Two Strong Front Claws

The first thing to know about Maine lobsters and what visually distinguishes them from other types of lobsters is that they have two strong front claws. All lobsters have eight walking legs they use to crawl forward.

Wild Lobsters Are Colorful

While we commonly imagine the iconic bright red lobster, lobsters in nature are a wide range of colors, but not red. Wild lobsters can be green, blue, yellow, grey, calico, multi-colored or even albino. Most commonly, lobsters are a dark greenish-brown, and the more unique colors are the result of a genetic mutation that causes a color of pigment to be missing. When a lobster is cooked, only the red pigments in the shell can withstand the heat, resulting in the bright red shell most people are familiar with. Only albino, or white, lobsters retain their natural color after they are cooked because their shell does not contain any color pigments.

Lobsters Have Clear Blood

Unlike humans and other mammals whose blood is red, lobsters have clear blood. When cooked, their blood oozes out of the lobster meat, producing a thick opaque white substance. You can see this jelly-like substance along the inside of the shell when you crack it open.

Lobsters Have a Dominant Claw

Each lobster has two different claws, a larger crusher claw and a smaller pincher claw. The crusher claw has a ridged edge that resembles molars and is used to break up hard food such as clams and crabs. The pincher claw, or ripper claw, is used to tear apart softer prey such as worms or fish. These claws can be on different sides of a lobster’s body, as the crusher claw is always on the lobster’s dominant side.

Lobsters Can Regenerate Their Limbs

If a lobster loses a claw, antenna or leg, it is able to grow it back. However, it typically takes about five years for a lobster to regenerate a claw that is the same size as the one it lost. Lobsters that are missing a claw are referred to in the industry as “cull.” Cull can still be caught and consumed, and are often marked down in stores. However, if you are serving lobster a fancy dinner party, you may want to wait for its limbs to grow back.

Lobsters Smell with Their Legs

Lobsters use small chemosensory hairs on their legs and feet to identify their food. This is particularly useful for small creatures or food that is dissolved into the water. Lobsters also use the antennae on the front of their heads to smell food that is further away. Combined, these features make their sense of smell so precise that they can seek out a single amino acid just by smelling. When consuming their prey, the hairs on a lobster’s front walking legs allow them to taste the food.

Lobsters Have Poor Vision

Members of the lobster species have poor vision. They probably don’t see objects but can detect motion in dim light in the depths of the sea. They may be blind in bright light.

Lobsters use their excellent sense of smell to locate their prey. Their longer antennae and tiny hairs over their whole body are sensitive to touch. The shorter antennae detect odors and chemical signals in water. Those shorter antennae also help lobsters to find their food.

Lobsters Chew with Their Stomachs

Lobsters do not have teeth, but instead have a structure called a gastric mill that is located in their digestive track. The gastric mill has three grinding surfaces that break down food as it moves from the lobster’s mouth to its stomach. A lobster’s stomach is located right behind their eyes and is about the size of a walnut.

Lobsters Grow by Molting

A lobster’s shell does not grow, so they must molt their shell and grow a new one as they age. When lobsters molt, they wiggle out of their hard exoskeleton, leaving them vulnerable to predators. The molting process itself puts a lot of stress on a lobster’s body, and about ten to fifteen percent of lobsters die naturally while shedding their shell. As the lobster grows, each new molting requires even more energy. Lobsters molt very frequently in the first few years of their life, and then about once a year after they have reached a mature size. Typically, lobsters molt about 25 times in the first five to seven years of their life. After lobsters molt, they are starving and deficient in nutrients, so they often eat the shell they have just molted to replenish their calcium levels.

Lobsters Live on the Ocean Floor

Smaller lobsters typically live in rocky habitats or seaweed where they can find protection and food. Larger lobsters may explore further offshore in coastal habitats. Most lobsters do not migrate, and will only travel about a mile. Some larger lobsters that live in deeper waters are known to migrate closer to the shore in summer.

Lobsters Can Swim Backward

While lobsters most commonly swim or crawl forwards, they can swim backward just as easily. If a lobster feels threatened or startled, it will dart backward by curling and uncurling its tail. This allows it to keep its eyes on the predator or threat in front of it while escaping.

Lobsters Cannot Process Pain

Before dropping a lobster into a pot for the first time, many people find themselves wondering, “Do lobsters feel pain?” While it is impossible to come to a completely conclusive answer to this question, most scientists would agree that lobsters are not able to process pain. Lobsters do not have a cerebral cortex, which is what gives humans our perception of pain, so it is unlikely that lobsters can feel pain. The hissing noise that occurs when a lobster is boiled can often be mistaken for crying or screaming but is just steam escaping from the lobster’s shell.

Lobsters Are Cannibalistic

Lobsters typically dine on fresh food such as clams, crabs, snails, mussels, sea urchins and small fish. However, when these food sources are not available or are scarce, they will also eat other lobsters. Other lobsters are the biggest threat just after a lobster has molted when it is an easy target for all predators, including other hungry lobsters.

Lobsters Have a Fascinating Reproductive Process

Lobsters are only able to breed seasonally, right after the female lobster has molted. Once she sheds her hard shell, she releases a pheromone to attract male lobsters for breeding. This has the bonus of protecting her from being eaten by other lobsters before her new shell has grown because male lobsters would rather mate with her than eat her. Once the female lobster has mated, she can carry the sperm in her body and choose when she wants to fertilize her eggs. If the water is warm and conditions are fair, she can hold the sperm for up to a year. Female lobsters can produce more than eight thousand eggs which may be fertilized by several different males. Lobster eggs are carried under the female’s body in her swimmerets until they hatch nine to twelve months later.

Lobsters Never Stop Growing

As far as scientists know, lobsters continue to grow throughout their entire lives. Lobsters will continue to eat, grow and molt indefinitely until they die of natural causes or are caught. The largest lobster recorded so far was caught in Nova Scotia in 1977. The monstrous lobster was 3.5 feet long and weighed over 44 pounds. Since then, many Maine lobsters weighing nearly thirty pounds have been pulled out of the Atlantic Ocean. Theoretically, there could be massive lobsters living in the deeper ocean that we simply have not yet discovered.

Lobsters Are Biologically Immortal

As lobsters get older, they show no signs of aging. Older lobsters continue to eat, have a stable metabolism and have high energy. Lobsters also continue to mate and reproduce with equal vigor. In fact, older and larger female lobsters can carry more eggs than younger, smaller lobsters. This has caused scientists and lobster-lovers alike to ask, “Are lobsters immortal?” Because lobsters do not show characteristics of aging, or senescence, they are said to be biologically immortal. Most lobsters die from external causes, including predators, humans and disease, but it is still possible for a lobster to die from old age. This typically occurs when an aging lobster is unable to continue molting and rots inside of its shell.

Lobsters Can Live to Be Over 100 Years Old

Scientists do not have a method to accurately determine the age of a lobster. When lobsters molt, they also shed their gastric mill and digestive tract along with their shell. This means that no hard parts are left for scientists to sample to determine age. However, scientists can estimate the age of a lobster based on its size. Lobsters purchased in stores are typically about five to seven years old, but scientists estimate that lobsters can live to be over one hundred years old.

The First Lobster Catch Was Over 400 Years Ago

The first Maine lobster catch was recorded by James Rosier in 1605, but the lobster industry truly took off in the 1700s when lobster “smacks” were introduced. These traditional fishing boats continued to be used by lobstermen in the Northern Atlantic through the 1900s.

Lobster Was Once Poor Man’s Food

When lobster was first consumed, it was by servants and prisoners. Lobster was plentiful in oceans around New England, making it an extremely cheap food source. In fact, servants and slaves were forced to eat lobster so often, that prisoners in a town in Massachusetts fought to have a rule passed so they only had to eat lobster three times a week. Extra lobster was fed to pigs or used as fishing bait or fertilizer.

Lobster Used to Be Caught by Hand

Because lobster was so plentiful, they would wash up on the seashore in large piles after storms. Lobsters were then gathered by hand from tide pools and beaches. Lobster fishing and trapping did not develop until much later.

Egg-Bearing Lobsters Are Legally Protected

After the creation of smacks and trap fishing, the number of lobsters in the ocean began to decline. Lobster also became popular as a canned good in the mid-1800s, leading to a rapid decrease in population. In 1872, the first law was passed in Maine to ban the capture of egg-bearing females. This conservation is still in place, and lobster-fishers are required to cut a small v-shaped notch in the tail of an egg-bearing female lobster so other fishers can identify it. Female lobsters with a v-notch are illegal to catch and consume. These conservation methods have helped lobster populations grow again, so we can continue to enjoy this delicacy.

Lobsters Can Be Purchased Soft-Shell

While many people associate soft-shell with crabs, lobsters can also be purchased with soft shells. Soft-shell lobsters are caught just after molting, typically in July and October. While not as common as hard-shell lobsters, soft-shell lobster is said to have sweeter and more tender meat.

Lobster Meat Is Healthy

In addition to its rich and delicious taste, lobster is good for you too. Lobster is high in protein and low in fat. Three ounces of lobster contains about 76 calories, 16 grams of protein and less than one gram of fat. Lobster also contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids and iron. If you avoid smothering it in butter, lobster is a great addition to any diet and a healthy way to build muscle. When shopping for lobster, seek wild caught lobster that was not raised on a farm. Farm-raised lobster often contains antibiotics or hormones that many people want to avoid.

Maine Lobster Is the Best Lobster

While we may be a little biased on this “fact,” Maine’s massive lobster industry attests to the quality of our catch. Lobster represents 75 percent of Maine’s commercial fishery value and hauls in hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The largest catch on record occurred in 2016 when Maine’s 6,000 lobster-fishers landed more than 130 million pounds of lobster. This massive catch was valued at over $533 million. Maine lobster is iconic, not only for its economic value but also for its delicious meat. While spiny lobsters caught in the southern Atlantic and Caribbean are only eaten for their tails, Main lobsters boast large meaty claws as well as delicate and delicious tails. Some people will even crack into the delicate legs of Maine lobsters to enjoy every last bite of tender meat. Over the last 400 years, Maine’s long history of lobstering has shaped both the culture and cuisine of the state and thrilled taste buds across the country.

Will Wonders Never Cease

Tucked away in the rolling hills of Potter County is one of the oddest natural wonders in Pennsylvania: The Coudersport Ice Mine.  The mine is located on a hillside, shielded from the sun and wind. Ice begins to form in April and continues to build up as the weather warms. Then, starting in September, the ice begins to melt, with only a residual amount remaining during the winter months.

The Coudersport Ice Mine is actually an ice cave located in Sweden Township, Pennsylvania. Ice appears in various shapes and forms, often as huge icicles measuring from 1 to 3 feet (0.91 m) in thickness, and from 15 to 25 feet in length; the ice is generally clear and sparkling. Discovered in 1894, the cave is about 40 feet deep, about 8 feet wide, and 10 feet long. The cave was open to the public for many decades but closed in 1990. New Ownership and renovations have led to the reopening of the mine to the general public.

The discovery of the mine was not a complete accident.  A farm owner in the area, John Dodd, had heard umpteen stories about a Native American seen carrying silver ore out of a mysterious cave on a mountainside in Sweden Valley, just east of Coudersport. Dozens of prospectors had thoroughly searched the mountain and came away empty handed. So, in the summer of 1894, with curiosity finally getting the best of him, Dodd set out to give it a try.

He asked a farm-hand, Billy O’Neil, for help. He knew Billy was handy with a divining rod and immediately Billy went searching. The divining rod, Billy said, “told him” where to find the vein of silver ore. He began to dig.  On a sweltering 90-degree day, Billy’s shovel hit something hard.

Only it wasn’t silver. It was ice!  He eventually uncovered a shaft of ice, some 30 feet deep, 10 feet long and 8 feet wide. Inside, they found not only large pieces of ice, but also human remains, a petrified fish, and fossils. While the search failed to yield the much-fabled silver, it resulted in one of the most fascinating finds in Pennsylvania history.

With winter approaching, Dodd returned to the hole in the ground and was amazed to see ice melting and warm air coming from the shaft. Winter passed. Returning to the mountain in late spring, Dodd was dumbfounded to see ice reforming. As summer progressed, it seemed the hotter the weather, the thicker the ice in the shaft!

Ice in summer. Gone in winter. How does this happen?

The mountainside consists of loose rock. Air currents travel through the mountain rocks and the mine shaft. Cold air is drawn in during the winter, forcing out the warmer air, which was drawn in during summer and the ice melts. In the spring, warmer air enters the mountain forcing the colder air out and ice forms. The cycle continues.

As years went by and word of the discovery got out, the science community took notice. In the meantime, the Ice Mine was on its way to becoming a prime tourist attraction. It’s reported that scientists from the National Geographic Society arrived at the Mine in the mid-1930s. One of them dubbed it “the eighth wonder of the world.” Despite initial skepticism, they departed Potter County saying the Ice Mine was indeed “a modern miracle”, giving credence to the “eighth wonder” label. Today, some 80 years later, The Ice Mine’s fascination continues among scientists and scholars.

What Shall We Make Today?

In honor of National Pot Pie Day, we’re making a Pillsbury classic—chicken pot pie! The recipe, pictures, and tips come from the Pillsbury website.

Ingredients

Crust

1 box (14.1 oz) refrigerated Pillsbury™ Pie Crusts (2 Count), softened as directed on box

Filling

1/3 cup butter or margarine

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 3/4 cups Progresso™ chicken broth (from 32-oz carton)

1/2 cup milk

2 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken or turkey

2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed

Steps

Heat oven to 425°F. Prepare pie crusts as directed on box for Two-Crust Pie using 9-inch glass pie pan.

In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until well blended. Gradually stir in broth and milk, cooking and stirring until bubbly and thickened.

Stir in chicken and mixed vegetables. Remove from heat. Spoon chicken mixture into crust-lined pan. Top with second crust; seal edge and flute. Cut slits in several places in top crust.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown. During last 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover crust edge with strips of foil to prevent excessive browning. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Tips from the Pillsbury Kitchens

tip 1

Make a foil collar (or pie crust shield) to protect the edges of the pastry from over browning. Place strips of foil to cover crust during the last 15 or 20 minutes of baking.

tip 2

A standard 9-inch glass pie plate works best for this recipe.

tip 3

The only complicated part of making a pot pie is the pastry. By using a refrigerated dough you’re left with making a quick, savory gravy that can be filled with leftover cooked chicken, turkey, or ham and a good handful of veggies. A dash of poultry seasoning or some finely chopped fresh sage will enhance the flavor of the sauce.

tip 4

To Make Chicken Filling Ahead: prepare as directed in recipe. Spoon into airtight container; cover. Refrigerate up to 1 day. To bake, pour filling into 2-quart saucepan, heat over medium heat 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently or until thoroughly heated. Assemble, fill and bake pie as directed in recipe.

tip 5

To Freeze Chicken Filling: prepare as directed in recipe. Cool, uncovered in refrigerator 30 minutes. Spoon mixture into 1-gallon freezer food storage plastic bag, leaving 1/2 to 1-inch at top of bag for expansion; seal. Freeze up to 1 month. To bake, thaw mixture overnight in refrigerator. Pour into 2-quart saucepan, heat over medium heat, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently or until thoroughly heated. Assemble, fill and bake pie as directed in recipe.

Bobcats

Graceful and stealthy, this North American cat is an extraordinary hunter and can thrive in regions from Canada to Mexico. And yes, their offspring are called bobkittens. Read on for more fascinating facts about bobcats.

Bobcats got their names because of their tails.

Though many felines have long, sinuous tails, an adult bobcat’s averages just 6 to 7 inches in length; the word bobcat is a reference to this stubby appendage. (In barbershop lingo, hair that’s been cut short is sometimes called “bobbed.”) Other names for these animals include bobtailed cats, wildcats or bay lynxes.

Bobcats and Canada lynx are not the same thing …

While bobcats are actually a type of lynx in North America, the term is more generally associated with the Canada lynx. On the surface, these two species look very much alike. Both, after all, are similarly proportioned, mid-sized cats with stumpy tails and pointed ears. Still, some noticeable differences do exist between them.

First, the Canada lynx is slightly bigger with longer limbs and larger feet. Another key dissimilarity lies in the fur: Bobcats have short, reddish-brown coats with well-defined spots while lynx are shaggy, gray, and have faded spots. If you were to compare their hindquarters, you’d notice that a bobcat has black bands on its tail, whereas a lynx’s tail only displays a solid, black tip. Also, lynx ears have longer tufts.

Bobcat

Canada lynx

But where these felines truly deviate from each other is in their lifestyle preferences. The lynx is a cold-weather cat that lives further north and at higher elevations. Their enlarged paws act like snowshoes, enabling these hunters to pursue such game as snowshoe hares with relative ease. Bobcats, in contrast, are built for warmer environments. Also, while lynx mainly eat hares, bobcats have a more varied diet and will readily hunt birds, small mammals, reptiles, and deer. Here’s another noteworthy tidbit: Bobcats tend to be much more aggressive—in fact, some zoo keepers call them the “spitfires of the animal kingdom.”

But bobcats and Canada lynx can mate.

The Canada lynx is found throughout its namesake nation and some northern parts of the U.S. (as well as Colorado). Since bobcats and lynx belong to the same genus (which, confusingly, is named Lynx), the two species are very similar at the genetic level. Over the past 15 years, a handful of confirmed hybrids have turned up in the northern U.S. The mix-matched predators tend to display a bobcat’s general build and the pointier ears of a lynx. In keeping with the tradition of giving delightful portmanteaux names to hybrid animals, these critters are now known as blynx.

Bobcats tend to hunt at dawn and dusk.

Wild bobcats do the majority of their hunting in low-light conditions. The animals usually wake up three hours before sunset and then go back to sleep around midnight; they wake up again roughly an hour before dawn. In the early morning, the felines return to their slumber and the whole cycle repeats itself.  Bobcats are at their most active during the twilight hours, when potential targets like eastern cottontail rabbits tend to forage. In the wintertime, though, food gets scarcer, which prompts some of the cats to change their schedules: Throughout the colder months, bobcats in northern states will often adjust their sleep regimen so that they can spend more time tracking down prey in broad daylight.

Adult bobcats can bring down animals that weigh much more than they do.

Fully grown bobcats can weigh up to 33 pounds. For the most part, they eat rabbits, birds, rodents, and other fairly small creatures. However, the cats are also extremely adept at killing adult white-tailed deer. Although they generally hunt fawns, they have been known to kill adults, which can weigh 250 pounds or more. To slay such a large herbivore, a bobcat will jump onto its back and bite through the throat.

Bobcats are excellent climbers and jumpers.

When threatened by a bigger carnivore, these cats will usually head for the safety of the nearest tree. Climbing among the branches also affords bobcats the opportunity to dine on nesting birds every so often. The felines have also been known to pounce onto unwary deer from overhanging tree limbs.

They’re also incredible jumpers. Able to clear 12 feet in a single bound, the cats can easily jump across narrow waterways. One of them went viral in 2020 after it was filmed leaping across a yawning gap in a Louisiana dock that had partially collapsed. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, bobcats can jump fences over 6 feet tall.

Bobcats like to cover their kills.

Bobcats can’t always consume their prey in one sitting. Sometimes, the carnivores use dirt, snow, leaves, or grass to bury the uneaten pieces of especially large corpses, and will return periodically to dig up their leftovers. This behavior is known as “caching,” and it’s also practiced by the North American mountain lion. Unfortunately, burying a corpse won’t guarantee that it won’t be discovered or nibbled on by other carnivores. Ravens, coyotes, bears, and those aforementioned mountain lions won’t hesitate to raid a bobcat’s secret stash if the opportunity arises.

Invasive pythons are a major threat to Florida’s bobcats.

Being a hunter doesn’t guarantee that you, in turn, will never be hunted. Owls, foxes, and coyotes regularly make off with bobcat kittens. Cannibalism is another big problem for these helpless infants, which are sometimes gobbled up by wandering adults (usually males) who belong to their own species. Fully grown bobcats don’t have many natural predators, although mountain lions have been known to kill those that encroach on their territory.

But in recent years, the short list of carnivores that eat bobcats has grown one entry longer. Since 2000, a Burmese python epidemic has been constricting the Florida Everglades. For decades, exotic pet owners have released a steady stream of these Asian snakes into the region, where they now thrive. Capable of weighing 200 pounds, the pythons are large enough to consume dogs, deer, and even alligators. Perhaps unsurprisingly, at least one euthanized specimen has been found with a bobcat corpse in its stomach.

Pythons are also devouring the animals that bobcats depend upon for survival, including rabbits, raccoons, and rodents. Not coincidentally, the number of bobcat sightings in the Everglades fell by 87.5 percent between 2003 and 2011.

Bobcats can run up to 30 mph.

Lynx rufus can sprint faster than any human being, but the cats also know when to slow things down. In 1966, two naturalists reported seeing a wild bobcat take 13 minutes to crawl across just 3.28 feet of ground. At the time, the predator was sneaking up on a cotton rat—which it was able to capture thanks to its patient approach.

Bobcats make a wide range of sounds.

We’re talking hisses, snarls, and meows, to name a few. When mating season rolls around, the cats may emit a screaming cry known as a “caterwaul” in a bid to attract partners. This vocalization is very loud, with the sound traveling as far as a mile away.

Bobcats can swim.

Bobcats don’t mind getting their feet wet while hunting beavers. The felines happen to be good swimmers overall, and they’ve been filmed or photographed paddling across lakes in such places as Illinois, Maine, and the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Bobcats and coyotes compete for some of the same food sources.

The two carnivores hunt some of the same prey animals, meaning the coyote-bobcat relationship can be hostile. An influx of coyotes into a given habitat may result in fewer bobcats living there. However, this doesn’t always happen. In certain ranges, it appears bobcats and coyotes peacefully coexist. Interactions between them are of great interest to field biologists.

Bobcat tracks usually don’t have claw prints.

Individual pawprints are about two inches long from end to end. At first glance, they might resemble the tracks of a coyote or domestic dog. But while those canids leave claw marks behind, the bobcat usually doesn’t. That’s because the felines have retractable claws, something dogs and coyotes both lack. Other differences include the general shape of each track; dog and coyote prints are more likely to be longer than they are wide—which isn’t the case with bobcats.

Bobcats come in different colors.

In Bobcat: Master of Survival, Kevin Hansen writes that in 1978, naturalist Stanley Young “described an albino bobcat that survived four years in the wild before being captured and placed at a Texas zoo.” On the other end of the color spectrum, there are melanistic bobcats with fur that’s almost entirely black. They mostly occur in Florida, where at least 10 black bobcats have been trapped over the years.

Bobcats are part of the same cat subfamily as cheetahs.

Of course, we’re talking about the Felinae.  This group includes bobcats, cheetahs, ocelots, cougars, and domestic house cats. The only other major cat subfamily is the Panterinae, to which the really, really big species—like lions and tigers—belong.

Pumpkins

A pumpkin is, surprisingly, considered a fruit.

The name “pumpkin” comes from the German word “pepon,” meaning “large melon.”

It is believed that pumpkins originated in Central America over 7,500 years ago. Pumpkin seeds contain many health benefits as they’re filled with vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fatty acids.

Pumpkin flowers are edible.

There are more than 45 different kinds of pumpkins.

Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica.

About 90% of a pumpkin is water.

The states that produce the most pumpkins include Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.

80% of the pumpkin crop in the United States is available during October.

For pumpkins to be ready by Halloween, they must be planted between late May to early July, depending on the location.

According to the Morton Pumpkin Festival, “In 1978, the Governor of Illinois signed a proclamation that Morton, Illinois was the ‘Pumpkin Capital of the World’ since 85% of the world’s canned pumpkin was processed at their Libby’s Pumpkin plant.”

Many people think of pumpkins as orange, but they can also appear in shades of white, yellow, red, blue, or green.

Canned pumpkin is not actually just pumpkin, but made up of a variety of other squash.

Pumpkin shells used to be woven into mats.

Jack -o’-lanterns originated from an Irish myth, and before using pumpkins, people in Ireland and Scotland created these now-Halloween-staples with turnips and potatoes instead.

Pumpkins were once thought to be a cure for snakebites.

You should not carry a pumpkin by its stem, but use two hands instead.

After a pumpkin is cut, it will usually last about seven to 10 days.

Making pumpkin pies during the holidays became popular during the 1800s.

The heaviest pumpkin, according to the Guinness World Records, came from Germany in 2016, weighing 2,624.6 lb.

The largest pumpkin pie weighed in at 3,699 lb from New Bremen, Ohio, in 2010.

The current record for most pumpkins carved in one hour by an individual is 109.

The record for the most people carving pumpkins simultaneously is held at 1,060 people. This took place in New Mexico in 2013.

The Guinness World Records reports that the fastest 100 m ever paddled in a pumpkin (you read that right!) has been 2 minutes 0.3 seconds, which was set in 2013.

Color My World

Autumnal leaves in vibrant hues are a beautiful part of the season, but those leaves are also a vital part of keeping trees alive.

Trees that have leaves that change color in fall are deciduous. (Evergreen trees with needles, which stay green to continue the photosynthesis process through the winter, are coniferous.) Deciduous trees usually have large, broad leaves.

Most of the year, these leaves are green because of the chlorophyll they use to absorb energy from sunlight during photosynthesis. The leaves convert the energy into sugars to feed the tree.

As the season changes, temperatures drop and days get shorter. Trees get less direct sunlight, and the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down.

The lack of chlorophyll reveals yellow and orange pigments that were already in the leaves but masked during the warmer months. Darker red leaves are the result of a chemical change: Sugars that can get trapped in the leaves produce new pigments (called anthocyanins) that weren’t part of the leaf in the growing season. Some trees, like oaks and dogwoods, are likely to produce red leaves.

How much and how fast leaves transform varies by location on the globe. The best colors are produced when the weather is dry, sunny and cool. Places that are cloudy, damp or warm won’t see the same degree of changing color.

Then, of course, the leaves fall. Trees start building a protective seal between leaves and their branches as the weather turns. They take in as many nutrients as possible from the leaves, but leaves wouldn’t survive the winter and would make trees vulnerable to damage if they remained. When the leaves are cut off from the fluid in the branches, they separate and drop to the ground.

In the fall, trees put on a pretty impressive fashion show. Leaves that were green all summer long start to turn bright red, orange, and yellow. But where do these colors come from?

Leaves are green in the spring and summer because that’s when they are making lots of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is important because it helps plants make energy from sunlight—a process called photosynthesis.

The summer sunlight triggers the leaves to keep making more chlorophyll. But trees are very sensitive to changes in their environment.

As summer fades into fall, the days start getting shorter and there is less sunlight. This is a signal for the leaf to prepare for winter and to stop making chlorophyll. Once this happens, the green color starts to fade and the reds, oranges, and yellows become visible.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

ARRRRGH….today be International Talk like a Pirate Day Matey!  And it brings to mind a “pirate party” the family had 20 some years ago.

It was a snow day and I was home with both kids.  Hubby had to head into work, and to distract the kids from worrying about their father, I announced that we’d be having a “pirate party” that evening after Dad got home.  I told them they had the day to fashion pirate costumes, and there would be treasure for the best.  I also said there would be a cupcake eating contest, and another game based on their current spelling words for the week.  I pulled out all the craft supplies I thought they’d need and piled it on the table.  I would only help if specifically asked.  Then I began making the jumbo cupcakes for the contest.

Once the cupcakes were finished, I grabbed several brown paper bags, the scotch tape and a thick black marker.  I cut the bottoms off the bags and opened them to lay flat.  I taped two together and sectioned off 1-foot sections with the marker.  Once I completed one plank, I made a second.

Next, I snagged the black poster board and the Cap’n Crunch box.  Using the hat in the picture, I fashioned a hat for hubby—I had yet to clue him in that costumes were required…lol.  I even added a white skull and crossbones in the center.  I stapled the two pieces together and viola! Pirate hat!  (By the way, it remains intact to this day—I keep it under the ink blotter on hubby’s oak desk.)

I took some red and white striped fabric and fashioned a head scarf for me and dug out my biggest hoop earrings.  Now to find the blue picnic blanket and the squirt guns!

Hubby made it safely home and while we ate dinner the kids told him all about the party.  They were very excited!! Neither had revealed any clues as to their costumes while we ate lunch and I admit to being anxious to see what they came up with! After eating, we did the dishes and the kids scurried upstairs to put on their costumes.  I filled hubby in on my plans for the games and he balked at wearing the pirate hat.  (When he saw how disappointed the kids were though, he gave in…how can you not love that man?)

When the kids came down the stairs, I was so impressed with their costumes.  Both had used brown paper bags to create peg legs for themselves—wrapping it around their calves.  My daughter created an eye patch, while my son used a dixie cup, paper and aluminum foil to create a hook for his hand.  Both had newspaper hats.  Hubby and I conferred and decided they both should win the $5 treasure.

The next “event” was the cupcake eating contest—and the rules were simple.  First one to eat their entire cupcake—no hands allowed—would win an additional treasure.  My daughter put up a valiant try, but in the end, my son would win. We sent them both upstairs to clean up while we cleaned up the dining room and set up the “finale” in the living room.  We moved the coffee table, smoothed out the blue picnic blanket and arranged the 2 planks.  They would each stand on the end of a plank, facing the sofa, where we sat.  The finale was a spelling bee—I called the game “walk the plank”.  The rules were easy—if you spelled your word correctly, you got to stay where you were. If you misspelled the word, you advanced one section of the plank.

What neither of the kids knew was what awaited the player who eventually ended up off the plank and in the water…lol.  My son, the terrible speller that he was (and remains) found out.  As he took the last step “off the plank” he said, “Now what?” 

We pulled out the squirt guns, and got him soaking wet, yelling “SPLASH!”

Apple Dumpling Day!!

You can’t go wrong with a classic Betty Crocker recipe, and this one is no exception. This timeless dessert is the epitome of fall—homemade flaky pastry is wrapped around a hot and bubbly apple and a warm brown sugar glaze is poured on top for an extra sweet finish. A perfect recipe for Apple Dumpling Day!

Recipe from Betty Crocker Kitchens

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold butter or margarine

4 to 5 tablespoons cold water

6 baking apples, about 3 inches in diameter (such as Braeburn, Granny Smith or Rome)

3 tablespoons raisins

3 tablespoons chopped nuts

2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

1 1/3 cups water

Heat the oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Cut in the butter, using a pastry blender or fork, until particles are the size of small peas. Sprinkle with the cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing well with fork until all flour is moistened. Gather the dough together, and press it into a 6×4-inch rectangle.

Lightly sprinkle flour over a cutting board or countertop. Cut off 1/3 of the dough with a knife; set aside. On the floured surface, place 2/3 of the dough. Flatten dough evenly, using hands or a rolling pin, into a 14-inch square; cut into 4 squares. Flatten the remaining 1/3 of the dough into a 14×7-inch rectangle; cut into 2 squares. You will have 6 squares of dough.

Remove the stem end from each apple. Place the apple on a cutting board. Using a paring knife, cut around the core by pushing the knife straight down to the bottom of the apple and pull up. Move the knife and make the next cut. Repeat until you have cut around the apple core. Push the core from the apple. (Or remove the cores with an apple corer.) Peel the apples with a paring knife.

Place 1 apple on the center of each square of dough. In a small bowl, mix the raisins and nuts. Fill the center of each apple with raisin mixture. Moisten the corners of each square with small amount of water; bring 2 opposite corners of dough up over apple and press corners together. Fold in sides of remaining corners; bring corners up over apple and press together. Place dumplings in a 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish.

In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the brown sugar and 1 1/3 cups water to boiling over high heat, stirring frequently. Carefully pour the sugar syrup around the dumplings.

Bake about 40 minutes, spooning syrup over apples 2 or 3 times, until crust is browned and apples are tender when pierced with a fork.

DIY: Leaf Bowls

My granddaughter and I were looking for fall crafts that we could do and I found step by step instructions on how to make a leaf bowl!  They’re gorgeous and it seems to be straightforward and fairly easy.  Then we saw the picture (near the end) of what a leaf bowl looks like in a year or two! I decided to purchase fake leaves now and save them till next year when we will attempt these!

 Here’s what you’ll need to craft a gorgeous fall leaf bowl at home:

Real fall leaves (make sure they’re still fresh and pliable as this project won’t work with leaves that are already dry) or artificial fall leaves

Balloon (or plastic mixing bowl in the size that you want to make your leaf bowl)

Mod Podge (matte or glossy—I prefer to use matte)

Scissors

Large paintbrush or sponge brush

Plastic wrap (optional)

Step-by-Step Instructions

Remove Leaf Stems

Whether you’ve chosen to use real or artificial fall leaves, your bowl will look much nicer and come together much better if you remove the leaf stems. Use scissors to cut off the stems so that only the leaf remains.

Once you’ve cut off the leaf stems, blow up a balloon to the size of your choosing. The size of the balloon will determine the size of the leaf bowl.

If you’re using artificial leaves, stick with a smaller size. The humidity in real leaves makes them stick to the balloon a lot better, even if its size is larger, but artificial leaves are a lot stiffer and they may simply slide right off if the balloon is too big.

Note: Skip this step if you’re planning on using a plastic bowl instead of a balloon as the base for your leaf bowl.

Place Balloon in Bowl

Take your inflated balloon and place it neck-down in an appropriately-sized mixing bowl to keep it in place while you go through the rest of the steps.

Add Plastic Wrap (Optional)

Because you’ll be using the balloon to create the shape of the leaf bowl, you’ll need to glue the leaves to the balloon using Mod Podge and let the Mod Podge dry before you can peel them off.

If ever you’re worried that the leaves will stay stuck or won’t peel off properly, feel free to cover the balloon in a layer of plastic wrap before you get started.

Note: This step is optional if you’re using a balloon, but if you’ve chosen to use a plastic mixing bowl to create the shape of your leaf bowl instead, cover it with plastic wrap as this will both protect your bowl and make the leaves a lot easier to peel off.

Add Mod Podge

Use a large paintbrush or sponge brush to cover some of the balloon’s surface with Mod Podge. Make sure the area you cover is larger than the leaves you’ll be using, as you’ll be layering them and will need the entire area beneath them to be covered with Mod Podge.

Cover Balloon with Leaves Press a leaf face-down onto the balloon, then cover it with Mod Podge as well.

Continue doing this until you’ve covered as much of the surface of the balloon as you wish to in order to create your bowl, covering each new leaf with more Mod Podge as you work.

If needed, brush the Mod Podge directly onto the surface of the leaf before pressing it onto the balloon.

Let Dry

When you’ve added all the leaves you wish to add and can no longer see any parts of the balloon that have been left uncovered, put away the Mod Podge and let your project dry completely before moving on to the next step.

If your leaves keep sliding down the surface of the balloon instead of staying in place while the Mod Podge dries (which will probably happen if you’re using plastic leaves), try covering the entire balloon in plastic wrap and peeling it off a little bit at a time, allowing each uncovered section to dry before uncovering the next section.

8. Peel Off Leaf Bowl

Once the entire surface of the leaves is completely dry, carefully peel the leaf bowl off the balloon and place it on a flat surface.

The Mod Podge on the inside of the bowl may still be a little wet; if that’s the case, simply let it sit for a while uncovered to allow its entire surface to dry.

Once all the Mod Podge is dry, your bowl is ready to use.

A NOTE ABOUT USING REAL LEAVES:

This project can work with both real and artificial leaves, and they both have advantages and disadvantages.

The first time we tried it, we used real fall leaves that had been freshly collected from the ground. Because the leaves came straight from outside, they were soft and pliable, which made them easy to craft with—especially with young kids participating.

Using real leaves also meant that this project cost us next to nothing, and it gave us an opportunity to spend time outdoors and craft with nature!

However, because the leaves were real, they did eventually go brown and lose their bright fall hues. Here is what that bowl looks like today, two years after it was made:

SOURCE: From Sacha’s website September 25, 2021 by Sacha

The Mighty Oak

Most likely, oak trees evolved in North America, Europe, and Asia between 40 million and 60 million years ago.

There are about 600 existing species of oak trees.

On average, oak trees live about 200 years, but some can live over 1,000 years.

The Pechanga Great Oak Tree is the oldest oak tree in the United States and maybe even in the world. It is thought to be nearly 2,000 years old.

On average, oak trees reach between 50–70 feet in height.  They can have a spread nearly 150 feet from branch to branch.

During the tragic 2019 Notre Dame fire, the cathedral’s oak frame was destroyed. The oak beams were made from trees cut down between 1160 and 1170 AD and form one of the oldest parts of the cathedral. The cathedral’s structure contained about 13,000 trees in total.

One oak tree produces nearly 2,000 acorns every year. However, only one in 10,000 acorns will become a full-grown oak tree.

In 2019, French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron gifted an oak “friendship tree” to Donald Trump; however, the tree died while in quarantine.

If eaten in large quantities, oak leaves and acorns are toxic to livestock, including cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. The tannic acid in the leaves and acorns can cause kidney damage and gastroenteritis. Only pigs seem to be immune.

Raw acorns contain tannins, which have a bitter taste and can be toxic to humans. However, leaching (soaking or boiling) the tannins makes the acorns safe to eat.

Acorns are an important part of many animals’ diets, including birds, small mammals, and larger mammals such as pigs, bears, and deer.

According to Norse legend, the god Thor took shelter under an oak tree, which has led to the belief that an acorn on a windowsill will protect against lightning strikes.

Acorns are nutritious and contain large amounts of protein, carbs, fats, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and niacin.

Because acorns are rich in fat, acorn flour can spoil or get moldy quickly.

Because acorns only ripen on adult oak trees, they are often a symbol of patience and endurance.

Koreans make edible acorn jelly called dotorimuk.[

Druids ate acorns, believing that they had prophetic qualities. In fact, the word “druid” comes from the Celtic word for acorn.

In some cultures, because an acorn is a “baby tree,” it is believed that wearing one around your neck will prevent premature aging.

In North America, there are about 90 species of oak trees. All oak trees have acorns.

An oak tree produces about 10 million acorns during its lifetime.

In Harper Lee’s iconic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, the oak tree outside of Boo Radley’s house is a symbol for friendship and the way kindness can thrive despite difficult circumstances.

The National Geographic Society designated The Emancipation Oak in Virginia as one of the most important trees in the world. In the 1860s, Mary Smith Peake broke the law when she taught African American adults and children how to read under the oaks’ branches.

The national tree of America is the oak tree.

There are nearly 600 species of oak trees. They all fall into two categories: white oaks or red oaks. White oaks have rounded lobe leaves, while red oaks have pointed lobe leaves.

Oak trees can either be deciduous or evergreen. Oak trees are more often evergreens in warmer climates with mild winters.

Hug an oak tree today!