I am not a foodie. I am not a food blogger. I like food, a whole lot. I like to eat food. Cheap food, good food, guilty pleasure food, sweet food, salty food…I like food. I also like to learn about food, and what it takes to get the food from origin to tummy. I may not have a highly-developed knack for cooking (I can cook well if I want to or need to, though…) I DO love ag, so it’s time to toot my Illinois-native horn and flaunt this state’s autumn pride-and-joy.
I’ve always just sort of “known” this tidbit, but for authority’s sake I’m going to cite it. According to the University of Illinois Extension, Illinois grows approximately 90-95% of U.S. process pumpkins each year. Any type of pumpkin product that has to face some sort of processing, is a “process pumpkin.” That means almost all canned pumpkins, pre-processed pumpkin baking fillings, pumpkin powders, pumpkin flavor extracts, pumpkin seasonings, and pumpkin seeds started out in the Land of Lincoln. Pumpkins are Illinois’ most prolific specialty crop. (I’d like to point out here that my home county, Kankakee County, is one of the top 10 pumpkin producing counties in Illinois! Although, Morton, IL claims the title “Pumpkin Capital of the World.”)
Illinois isn’t the only state that boasts good pumpkin populations. Ohio sits in second place, and California sits in third. (Their pumpkin production tends to be more towards the fresh pumpkin markets, though, and are still dwarved by Illinois!) (Also, seeing California on this list is good for my heart, since I lived there and love northern California!)
Consider all of the great pumpkin things you enjoy eating: pumpkin soups, pies, bars, cookies, breads, casseroles, drinks (let’s not forget Pumpkin Spice Lattes…). The list goes on it. Then there are all the products that pumpkin contributes to that we may or may not realize. Lotions, scrubs, cleaning products, cosmetics, and much more. And don’t forget milk and meat! Pumpkins and pumpkin remains from processing are popular for livestock feed in areas where it’s available.
Pumpkins, much like their relatives in the squash and melon families, can be healthy additions to a diet. They’re rich in vitamin A, like many other orange foods (carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, certain types of squash). Vitamin A is an essential nutrient and is necessary for maintaing healthy eyesight. Pumpkins are also a source of the vital electrolyte potassium, which helps to promote healthy blood pressure, among other things.
So, as a member of the Illinois agriculture community, I’d like to say “you’re welcome” for all the great pumpkin products that are available because of this state. And as a lover of every pumpkin dish I have ever eaten, I’d like to say “thank you” to the farmers who grow these delicious and versatile fruits. Illinois often takes its specialty crops for granted, and I’m glad I could spend a little bit of time heralding a very popular one!
If you want to learn more about the fantastic, plump, plentiful pumpkin, please check out this University of Illinois Extension page. It has great facts about pumpkin production!
My challenge to you: leave a comment with your favorite pumpkin recipe and swap interesting ways to use pumpkin in cooking (or outside of cooking, if you’re feeling fancy!). I’m going to have to learn how to cook for myself someday, which means I’m going to need my culinary comrades to help me out!