Picking the Perfect Pumpkin
The tradition of Halloween jack-o'-lanterns goes back to the Irish who originally carved big turnips into jack-o'-lanterns, said Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
"With the influx of Irish immigrants into the United States, pumpkins became the fruit of choice for carving; and yes, pumpkins are a fruit, not a vegetable," he said.
Pumpkins are grown all over the world including Illinois. Illinois produced an estimated 427 million pounds of pumpkins in 2010. They are grown on every continent, except for Antarctica.
"As a matter of fact, Morton, Illinois calls itself the 'Pumpkin Capital of the World'," Wolford noted. Eighty percent of the world's canned pumpkin is processed in Morton. "The world's largest pumpkin at 1,818.5 pounds was grown by Jim and Kelsey Bryson from Ormstown in Quebec, Canada in 2011... That may be a little too big for a jack-o'-lantern."
Pumpkins are used to make pies, soups and breads. The world's largest pumpkin pie was made at the New Bremen, Ohio Pumpkinfest in 2010. The pie was 20 feet in diameter and weighed 3,699 pounds! Ingredients for the pie included 1,212 lbs. of canned pumpkin, 2,796 eggs (233 dozen), 109 gallons of evaporated milk, 525 pounds of sugar, 7 pounds of salt and 14.5 pounds of cinnamon.
The seeds can be roasted for a delicious snack and the large pumpkin flowers are edible. Pumpkins are 90 percent water and contain potassium and Vitamin A.
Wolford recommends the following few tips for selecting that perfect pumpkin.
- Choose a pumpkin with a stem and never carry it by the stem. Pumpkins without a stem will not last long.
- Select a pumpkin with a flat bottom, so it will stand upright.
- Avoid pumpkins with holes, cuts or soft spots. These areas will rot. Use the thumbnail test. Press your thumbnail into the pumpkin, if the nail makes an indentation in the pumpkin, do not select it.
- Light colored pumpkins are easier to carve because the skin is not as hard as darker orange colored ones, but they will not keep as well.
- Wash the pumpkin with warm water and let it dry before carving.
- To make the pumpkin last longer, keep it in a cool place until ready to carve. After carving, coat the cuts with petroleum jelly. A pumpkin once cut for Halloween will last 7-10 days.
For more information about pumpkins and a listing of local pumpkin farms, check out the web site Pumpkins and More at www.urbanext.illinois.edu/pumpkins.