Who doesn’t love fall, especially after a very hot and dry summer. Cooler temperatures, colorful mums, frosty nights, changing foliage and pumpkins herald the fall season.
Pumpkins have been around for many centuries. They were first grown in Central America. Spanish explorers brought pumpkin seeds back to Europe in the 14th century. When early settlers arrived in America, they discovered that Native Americans were growing and using pumpkins. They roasted strips of pumpkin over an open fire for food. Native Americans also dried long strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. Early colonists cut off the top of the pumpkin, scraped out the seeds and filled the inside of the pumpkin with milk, honey and spices, cooking it for hours into a sort of early version of a pumpkin pie.
Illinois grows more pumpkins than any other state in the United States. Pumpkins are grown on over 12,000 acres of land in the state. Eighty percent of all the pumpkins produced commercially in the
U. S. are produced within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. Most of those pumpkins are grown for processing into canned pumpkins. Ninety-five percent of the pumpkins processed in the United States are grown in Illinois.
Morton, Illinois just 10 miles southeast of Peoria calls itself the “Pumpkin Capital of the World.” Over 100,000 tons of pumpkins are processed and canned there each year. That is enough pumpkin to bake more than 50 million pies. In September, Morton celebrates the start of the canning season with the Morton Pumpkin Festival at www.pumpkincapital.com.
Orange is still the most popular color for pumpkins, but over the last few years pumpkins in shades of red, white, grayish blue and green have come on the market.
“Orange is still the most popular color for pumpkins, but over the last few years pumpkins in shades of red, white, grayish blue and green have come on the market. Researchers are working on developing a pink pumpkin,” said Ron Wolford, Extension horticulture educator.
The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to Vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to Vitamin A, beta-carotene performs many important functions in overall health.
Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well as some degenerative aspects of aging.
To find a pumpkin farm close to you, check out the University of Illinois Extension website Pumpkins and More at www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins.