Football game? What football game?
It was all about the pumpkins – being carved, piled, purchased, shot with slingshots, and eaten in the form of pies and doughnuts – for the thousands of people who thronged the Great Pumpkin Farm in Newstead on a glorious Sunday.
The stars of the day’s events were the competitive eaters who traveled from across the country to gobble slices of pumpkin pie. The winner was awarded the world championship title, a trophy and $1,000 cash prize.
The event was run by All-Pro Eating, which prides itself on “picnic-style rules.” That means, said official Dave “Coondog” O’Karma, that spectators were spared the usual water-dunking seen in other eating contests. “We don’t dip, dunk or desecrate our food,” said O’Karma, who wore a striped referee’s jersey and a pair of safety goggles because, he said, “Have you ever been hit in the eye by a meatball?”
Ten eaters clad in bright orange T-shirts took their places at a long table set with dozens of small paper plates, each holding a slice of pie that weighed 4.8 ounces. The eager eaters were allowed to raise the plate to their mouths but not touch the pie with their hands during the 10-minute event.
At the center of the long table, Molly Schuyler of Omaha stood next to rival Jamie “The Bear” McDonald of Connecticut, winner of last year’s pie-eating contest, which Schuyler did not attend. The two faced off a day earlier over Chinese dumplings in New York City; Schuyler won by one dumpling, consuming 90 in two minutes.
But Sunday the pie prize went to McDonald, who bolted 40 slices of pie in 10 minutes, the equivalent of 12 pounds of pumpkin filling and crust. He shattered his tally from last year, when he consumed 33 slices.
The crowd of hundreds chanted and cheered as the eaters grabbed plates of pie and shoveled them in, except for Marie Schmitz, a petite lady who daintily nibbled at a slice. At the five-minute mark, the pace slowed, then in the final two minutes, the eaters stuffed their mouths, cheeks bulging and bits of crust protruding as they chewed and swallowed.
When the final crumb had cleared, Schuyler’s 39 was the number to beat, but McDonald did it. He had not only eaten one more pie segment than Schuyler – really a half-slice, she pointed out – he had eaten 40, thus earning a $500 bonus. “I had to push it hard,” he said afterward.
Mike Longo of Virginia and Dave Werick of Williamsville tied for third at 17 each, then broke the tie with a race to finish two more slices, which Werick won. But the real winner, said Todd Greenwald of All-Pro Eating, may have been Schmitz of West Seneca, who consumed a single slice “and leaves here today with a free slice of pumpkin pie in her stomach.”
Under a tent near Main Street, artist Rob Chase of Akron used tiny tools to carve detailed, imaginative faces into pumpkins he carefully picked from the patch. One of his creations was almost all teeth, another had a sharp, menacing look. “Halloween is my favorite holiday,” said Chase, a graphic designer.
A new pumpkin slingshot attraction, where people pull back fabric pockets set in stretchy tubes to launch fist-sized pumpkins into a rocky field, drew many families. Collin Buyskes, 10, who visited the Pumpkin Farm with his parents, Dylan and Robyn, of North Buffalo, said that while one of his shots hit a far-away tree, he was “just aiming to go as far as I can.”
Kelly Kubala, who said, “I just love fall things,” had a cute autumn outfit picked out to wear on her visit with boyfriend Eric Rejman, but the warm weather made her change her plans. Kubala and Rejman, both of Cheektowaga, wore Bills T-shirts instead. “I’m missing the game right now,” noted Rejman. Kubala added, “But he loves me, so it’s OK.”