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Punkins will fly once again in November!

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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After several years of upset, false starts, disappointments, angst and weeping/gnashing of teeth, Delaware's own Punkin Chunkin event makes a triumphant return Nov. 4-6 of this year. The prime mover behind this happy resurrection is none other than Frank Payton, the president of Punkin Chunkin 2016, and the founder of Techno Goober, the popular website development company based in Lewes.

I met Frank when he and his company donated their time and talent to redesign the fundraising website for our local Meals on Wheels Lewes-Rehoboth. I have the pleasure of being a part of that organization (along with Cape Gazette Editor-in-Chief Trish Vernon), and it was no secret that the old website needed an overhaul. Meals on Wheels Lewes-Rehoboth's shiny new site is finally up and running, thanks to Frank and his "Goobers Give Back" initiative.

When I was talking to him and champion chunker Dawn Thompson on the radio a couple of weeks ago, they surprised me by naming Meals on Wheels Lewes-Rehoboth as one of the beneficiaries of this year's Punkin Chunkin event. Generous bunch, those Goobers and Chunkers!

Punkin Chunkin was born in 1986 when a bunch of friends were hanging around founder Bill Thompson's house (he's Dawn's husband), sipping adult beverages and bragging about how far they could throw the seasonal gourd. After it became obvious that a person could only hurl one so far under his (or her) own power, they began to dream up home-brewed contraptions designed to not only render a pumpkin airborne, but also to keep it there for a while. Things pretty much got out of hand after that, as the event moved from Thompson's back yard to Hudson Fields on Coastal Highway, then to William and Betty Hurdle's field on Hollyville Road, eventually landing in Bridgeville, just off Redden Road. As the machines became more powerful, the need for shooting space - and enthusiastic attendees - grew. In 2013, 30,000 people came to watch the gourds fly! This year, participants are coming to Delaware from as far away as Australia. Their machinery is already on the way to Bridgeville via cargo ship. Frank has already had to suspend new competitor signups, as the field will be crammed with 115 chunkin' machines from all over the world.

Frank Payton was introduced to Punkin Chunkin by the late Bruce Hefke, his engineering teacher at Cape Henlopen High School. Hefke lit the fire in his young students with those immortal words, "Class, we're going to build a punkin' chunker!" Frank dove into the project wholeheartedly, eventually involving his family in the gravity-defying endeavors. Machines such as Regulator, Old Glory, Let's Bounce (built by Frank's mom), Frankenchunker (his brother's creation), Morgana and Southern Exposure were cobbled together by his relatives. Frank will carry on the tradition this year when his 5-year-old daughter enters the 10-and-under category with her very own machine dubbed Stand Back a Little Bit. Frank doubts that she's a threat to the current 4,600-foot record chunk, but she might surprise us.

So what does all this have to do with The Business of Eating, you might ask. (Thank you for asking.) Well, a big part of this year's Punkin Chunkin will be a recipe and cooking contest held during the competition. (I will be one of the judges - reason enough to go!)

Using her 30-foot-long cannon affectionately named Hormone Blaster, Dawn Thompson established the female world-record chunk of 4,384 feet. While she's aiming for that elusive one-mile goal this year, she will also help to assemble a special cookbook from these gourd-centric dishes. Sales of the cookbook and other merchandise will go to charities such as Meals on Wheels Lewes-Rehoboth.

Many of Delmarva's favorite food trucks will be in attendance, as well as professional chefs from Delmarva restaurants. Many years ago, a young guy who liked to brew beer in his parents' basement won the recipe contest with a beverage he called Punkin Ale. Yes, that guy was Sam Calagione, and now you can buy that popular Dogfish Head core brew pretty much everywhere. (So did Sam make Punkin Chunkin famous, or did Punkin Chunkin make Sam famous? We'll never know....)

This beloved fall event returns to Delaware Nov. 4-6. Chefs and home cooks can enter the various competitions any time after Aug. 1 at Attendees may purchase tickets and group packages at the same website. Frank, Dawn and the rest of their crew are working hard to fulfill everyone's high hopes after the long wait to see pumpkins fly yet again through the skies of Delaware. Uber-Goober and Chunkin' Chief Frank Payton says it best: "History will be made in 2016, and we want to make our return to Delaware a unique experience for all our participants and spectators."

Bob Yesbek is a serial foodie and can be reached at Bob

Copyright 2016 Cape Gazette, Lewes, Delaware. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: July 8, 2016

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