The fall season is here which means pumpkins are now available. We not only use pumpkins for eating purposes but also include many in our fall decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Pumpkins are grown primarily for processing with a small percentage grown for ornamental (decorating) sales through you-pick farms, farmers markets, and retail outlets. Pumpkins are used to make soups, pies, and breads. The seeds of pumpkin can be roasted and used as a snack. The flowers of a pumpkin vine are also edible. Pumpkins are also used as feed for animals.
The total United States pumpkin production in 2008 was valued at $141 million with 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins produced. Top pumpkin producing states are Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California. Around 90 to 95% of the processed pumpkins in the United States are grown in Illinois. Around 80% of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.
Pumpkins originated in Central America. The name pumpkin originated from “pepon” – the Greek word for “large melon.” Pumpkins are considered a fruit and are made up of 90% water. They are also a good source of potassium and Vitamin A.
Pumpkins are members of the vine crops family called cucurbits. The cucurbit family also includes cucumbers, squashes, melons and gourds. Conditions for growing pumpkins are best when the soil is warm and the temperature is above freezing, needing a growing season of at least 90 days without frost which allows them to be grown in most of North America. It takes about 120 days for a pumpkin to grow to full size.
Pumpkins range in size from less than a pound to over 1,000 pounds. The largest pumpkin ever grown in the United States was from New Hampshire weighing 2,528 pounds in 2018. There are dozens of varieties of pumpkins, but the Connecticut field variety is the traditional American pumpkin.
In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling. Colonists eventually sliced off pumpkin tops; removed seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices, and honey. They would bake the pumpkin in hot ashes and that was the origin of pumpkin pie. Native Americans would roast long strips of pumpkin in an open fire and flattened strips of pumpkins, dry them, and make mats.
The largest pumpkin pie ever made was in Ohio and was over 20 feet in diameter and weighed over 3,699 pounds. It used 1,212 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 525 pounds of sugar, 233 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.
To celebrate pumpkin season, the Farm Credit Farmers Market will be holding a Pumpkin Day on Friday, Oct. 11. We will be having a pumpkin recipe contest for those who have a delicious recipe featuring pumpkin that is blue ribbon worthy. The contest is open to all ages. Entries will be received from 1 to 1:30 p.m. The recipe must include at least 1 cup of pumpkin. Contestants must be present during the contest and may enter more than one recipe. The recipe must be homemade, prepared at home, and presented ready to serve three to four judges. Recipes must be presented with the entry as the first place winning recipe will be published in the Tribune.
Along with a pumpkin recipe contest, there will also be a food demonstration by Michelle Estrada, a Wayne County Extension Family & Consumer Science agent, who will give ideas for a new pumpkin recipe to try along with samples of the featured recipe to taste.
Be sure to include pumpkin with your fall festivities and celebrate pumpkin season by attending Pumpkin Day at the Farm Credit Farmers Market.
Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.
Upcoming Wayne County Extension Gardening Programs