Illinois’ marquee fall fruit fits the bill for taste, nutrition and versatility | State & Regional


Pumpkins displayed on a farm in Clinton County await purchase.

Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater had the right idea.

“Pumpkin is a super food,” said Mary Liz Wright, a University of Illinois Extension specialist.

Illinois is the nation’s No. 1 producer of pumpkins. More pumpkins are grown in the state than in the five other leading states, according to the USDA.

It is one of the few fruits that is known as much for its appearance as its culinary characteristics. Jack-o’-lanterns grace the front porches and yards of homes and businesses. The meat from those can be used in recipes, but Wright doesn’t heartily recommend it.

“You will be a little disappointed,” she said. “And if you’re using a Jack-o’-lantern that you’ve cut a face into and set a candle in and it’s set out a few days, you’re talking about a food safety issue.”

Varieties grown for decoration are bred for structure, size and color, not flavor or consistency.

“It’s like the difference between your garden tomato and how wonderful that tastes, and that cardboard-reddish ball you buy at the grocery store,” Wright said.

“There’s quite a bit of difference,” said Nathan Johanning, an Extension educator who specializes in small farms and food systems. “Jack-o’-lanterns are orange. Processing ones are tan or buckskin in color. They’re more elongated. When you cut one open, though they don’t look showy on the outside, inside they’re very bright orange. That’s why canned pumpkin has such bright color.”

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