David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois
Yard & Garden
Pumpkin picking pleasures
Is it better to carve it or bake it?
Illinois is one of the pumpkin capitals of the world, if not No. 1. However, when we talk about pumpkins, we need to be specific. Are we talking about Jack-o-lanterns or the pumpkin that goes into the pies, bars, cookies, soups and everything else come November and December?
Jack-o-lanterns are grown specifically for carving and/or decorating, primarily having value until October 31, but essentially worthless afterwards, except for seeing how far they can be tossed. Likewise, if the pumpkins become ripe the first week of October, they may have worthless value by Halloween.
As always, it’s hard to predict what will happen due to the uncertainty of Illinois summers. Things were right on target with late May to early June planting, but then summer’s heat and drought rolled in. Vines died for some, flowers aborted.
In some cases, the heat sped up the development where some growers were panicking that their crops would be ready by the middle of September. Halloween just isn’t something that you can push up.
Most Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are relatively hollow, though there is a netting of fibers and seeds on the inside; but the pumpkin flesh is seldom more than an inch thick.
You can scrape out the flesh and cook it, add all the spices, pour it into a crust and bake. Top with whipped cream and you have a pumpkin pie.
Of course, you can roast the seeds and have a tasty snack as well.
Pumpkin-pie pumpkins would fool most people if you saw them. In Illinois, you’ll find more around the central part of the state as Morton is the pumpkin pie capital of Illinois due to the Libby processing plant. Starting in September, semi after semi of pumpkins are trucked, dumped and turned into canned filling.
If you are in to the scientific name, they go by Cucurbita moschata, while the common Jack-o-lanterns are Cucurbita pepo.
These pumpkins seldom have orange on their outside. Most are rather tannish white or whitish tan. They don’t even have the traditional round and ribbed form associated with Halloween.
If you spot the occasional one that has fallen off a truck and smashed on the road, you can easily spot the orange flesh inside. What’s more, you’ll spot lots and lots of the flesh.
Think about a butternut squash on steroids, but with a different skin color. That’s what you’ll get with the pumpkin-pie pumpkin. Because of the quantity of flesh, it’s perfect for canning. What they lack in size is made up by volume.
The wonderful thing about canned pumpkin is that it lasts much longer than the Jack-o-lanterns. That is, until you make the pie, bars, cookies or cheesecake, and you find that what remains is around your waist.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
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