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Picking the perfect pumpkin

URBANA — When you think of Halloween, what pops into your head? Trick or treating, candy, fall, and maybe pumpkins! Pumpkins and Halloween go together, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“Illinois is the No. 1 pumpkin-producing state in the United States,” said Ron Wolford. “In 2012, Illinois pumpkin farmers produced an estimated 623 million pounds of pumpkins.”

Wolford added that pumpkins are grown on every continent except for Antarctica.

“Morton, Ill., claims to be the ‘Pumpkin Capital of the World’ as 80 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin is processed there. Morton celebrates everything pumpkin at its annual Morton Pumpkin Festival in September,” he said.

At the 2012 Topsfield, Massachusetts Fair’s All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off, the world’s largest pumpkin, which weighed 2,009 pounds, was grown by Ron Wallace from Greene, R.I. This was the first time a pumpkin weighed more than 2,000 pounds.

“That may be a little too big for a jack-o’-lantern,” Wolford observed.

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 pounds 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.

Wolford offered the following are tips for selecting a perfect pumpkin.

• Choose a pumpkin with a stem at least 1 to 2 inches long 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 decay. Use the thumbnail test. Press your thumbnail into the pumpkin; if your nail makes a scratch in the pumpkin, do not select.

• 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 or vegetable oil. A pumpkin cut for Halloween will last 7 to 10 days.

• Avoid using candles to light up your pumpkin. The heat from the candle will cook the flesh of the pumpkin, shortening its lifespan.

For more information about pumpkins and a listing of local pumpkin farms, visit the U of I Extension website Pumpkins and More at www.urbanext.illinois.edu/pumpkins.

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