|Pumpkins and squashes from the Firefly Visual Dictionary|
Once upon a time, in Russia, there lived "a king and a queen who had an only son. When he was eighteen years old, they sent for him and said,'Dear son, it's time for you to be married.' And the son replied,' If you find a bride for me, I'll gladly marry." So the king ordered all the prettiest girls in the land to come to the palace. The prince did not fancy any of them. Now the king announced that the person who could find a bride to his son's taste would get a fine reward. An old woman came to the palace the very next day. She claimed she knew where to find such a bride, and the king bade her bring the girl forth. But the woman said, "Let the prince get up at dawn. Let him put on his coat and take his knife and a bottle of water, and let him go into the king's garden. There, he will see three pumpkins growing on a single vine. Let him take his knife and cut one off. The most beautiful princess will emerge from it. Let him give her water to drink and she will at once be willing to be his bride." In thanks for this the king gave her lodgings in a small hut in the kitchen garden. Now the king called his son, and gave him the unusual instructions for the morning. At dawn, the prince carefully obeyed the orders of the old woman. Sure enough, he saw a pumpkin vine with three gourds in a row. He cut the first one off. As soon as he had done so, "a naked princess as lovely as a sunrise stepped out of the pumpkin and cried,'A drink! A drink! A drink!" and ran away before the prince could speak. So he cut another pumpkin off the vine and another naked princess jumped out and ran away. He stopped to think for a minute, then removed the lid from his water bottle and held it at the ready. Now he cut the third pumpkin off the vine, and, before the girl inside could run away, thrust the water jug into her hands. She drank, and drank, and drank. When the bottle was empty, the prince took off his coat and set it around her shoulders. Then he picked her up gently and set her comfortably onto the limb of a tree. There he left her while he went to seek the king. "Now, the branch overhung a well, and a gypsy woman came to it for water. She looked into the water and cried out,'Oh, how lovely I am!" At that, the princess cried," A curse on you! You, lovely? It's I who am lovely.' The gypsy looked up and saw the princess sitting in the tree so she dragged her out of it, took the coat, and threw her into the well, after which she donned the prince's coat and perched herself in the tree." When the king and queen arrived and saw their son's bride, they were a little surprised. But they thought, well, to each their own, and welcomed her into the family. As for the prince, the gypsy cast spells over him so that she appeared to be a fresh and lovely maiden. So the preparations for the wedding began. It happened one day that the king's cook went to fetch a pail of water from the well. When he dragged up his bucket, the prettiest fish he had ever seen was swimming in it. "He took it to the kitchen and cooked it, but he threw the scales outside. Now, the old woman who lived in the hut near the royal kitchen looked out and happened to see the scales. She gathered them up and sewed them together to make a little shoe. She hung it up on the wall of her hut before she went to bed that night." In the morning, the dame had a nice surprise: the hut was swept clean, her breakfast was laid out for her, and the day's bread already baked." So she ate her breakfast, and sat down to "spin flax. She spun and she spun until she fell asleep. When she awoke, she discovered that all her flax had been spun." She was very grateful, but she wanted to see the spirit who had helped her. So that night, she only pretended to sleep. And just before dawn, she saw "a princess lovely as the world come out of the golden shoe." The young lady lit the fire in the oven, kneaded the bread dough and set it to rise while she tidied the hut. Then she baked the bread and was just setting it to cool when the old woman jumped out of bed and tiptoed over. Quick as a wink, she grabbed the shoe of fish scales off the wall and tossed it right into the oven. It burned up immediately. "The princess, seeing this, set up a clamor, but it was too late. The little golden shoe had burned up, and the princess had to stay with the old woman." The princess made the best of things, and one day, said to the old woman, "I'm bored. Give me some work to do." Now the old woman went and told the king that she herself was bored, and would like some work to do. "So the king gave her some thread and told her to crochet a tablecloth out of it. The old woman took the thread back to her hut and gave it to the princess, who sat down and crocheted a table cloth in the design of a garden. And in the middle of the garden she crocheted a portrait of her own face." When it was finished, the old woman took it to the king. It pleased him very much and her ordered that it be spread upon the table that very night. During dinner, which was a celebration for the bride and groom, the prince could not take his eyes off of the face in the middle of the tablecloth. He asked the king that the needleworker who made it be brought before him. When his father called forth the old woman, the prince asked her," Was it you who crocheted this table cloth?" and she replied,"Not I, but the princess of the golden shoe." And when that young one was brought before him, he "instantly recognized his betrothed, uniquely beautiful in all the world. He fell on her neck and wept as he embraced and kissed her. The gypsy bride, the false princess, was driven out of the palace, and the prince and the princess were married and continue to live happily unto this day.
From Yiddish Folktales, edited by Beatrice Silverman Weinreich, (1988) New York: Shocken Books, p. 122
Notes: This story has everything going for it! Fish scales, very similar to those in the Iroquois Cinderella. Not one old woman but two, one of which has good and the other bad qualities. Pumpkins on the vine, from which a princess comes. There is a precedent for this in the nursery rhyme, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, had a wife and couldn't keep her. He put her in a pumpkin shell, and there he kept her, very well.