All Eyes on Bill Clinton and His Prize Fruit

CONTOOCOOK, N.H.—Hillary Clinton wandered out of a small wooden barn and the national press corps stayed behind. They preferred to listen to Bill Clinton talk about pumpkins.

“If it gets too much water and splits open, it’s eliminated,” Mr. Clinton said, explaining the delicate nature of competitive pumpkin-growing.

The couple had stopped at the 92nd Annual Hopkinton State Fair in New Hampshire after the Clinton campaign’s “Fall Kick Off Rally” in Concord. Mrs. Clinton had changed from a blue to yellow suit jacket for the occasion and, at one point, pet a llama with extended arm. Her husband walked around the dusty grounds massaging cows, eating apple crisps and admiring all the different trucker shirts.

Then Mr. Clinton saw the pumpkins.

“That’s the biggest pumpkin I’ve ever seen,” he said, a serious and astonished look shading his face.

The pumpkin, raised by a farmer in nearby Henniker, was 1,004 pounds, pale orange and warped like a beanbag chair. It sat adorned with a blue ribbon in the middle of a bed of hay next to a 961-pound pumpkin from Goffstown, which had won “ugliest pumpkin.” They did not look all that different.

“There are 300 guys who do this, and they swap seeds and they keep trying to plant and see what happens,” said Mr. Clinton. “It’s basically water plus soil plus care.” He said he had learned from the pumpkin grower, Bruce Whittier, that “originally these giants were sort of giant squash and pumpkins and put together anyway.”

Before Mrs. Clinton left, the former president had peppered Mr. Whittier with all sorts of questions about the pumpkin. He asked how much water they take. “Does it lose its taste as it gets bigger?”

The former president looked across the patch of pumpkins at reporters straining to hear, lip-reading and repeating snippets overhead from Mr. Clinton (“too much water”) into their tape recorders.

“You hear what he said?” Mr. Clinton said to the reporters.

Mrs. Clinton looked bored. Her glare wandered and zoned out on a small television. “Are those some people in their pumpkin boats?” she asked looking at the screen. Then she slipped out.

Mr. Clinton went on to compare the Hopkinton Fair pumpkins to the Arkansas watermelons of his youth. He said he had two uncles who grew watermelons competitively and that he had a late cousin who had a watermelon stand for more than 50 years. The reporters walked over and pointed their tape recorders at the former president’s mouth as he talked about the biggest watermelon he had ever seen.

“That’s like a quarter of the size of a pumpkin, but that’s a huge watermelon,” he said.

Mr. Clinton said no one knew how the pumpkins tasted because Mr. Whittier had “raised all of his for contests. He said he can’t let the skin break. Therefore what he’s got to do is keep all the insects away from it at night. ‘I use herbicides and all that, that if I were raising them to eat I would never use.’”

A press aide interrupted, hoping to get the former president out of the Pumpkin barn.

“Thank you, guys,” he said.

But Mr. Clinton was not finished.

All Eyes on Bill Clinton and His Prize Fruit