October is National Pumpkin Month and a great time to celebrate this versatile fruit that grows close to home. Did you know that Illinois produces more than 90 percent of the processed pumpkins in the United States? This may seem surprising but 80 percent of all the pumpkins produced commercially in the U.S. are produced within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. According to the Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service (IASS), more than 17,000 acres were harvested in 2016.

There’s a good chance that the pumpkin you carve and the pumpkin you use for pie this fall season were grown in Illinois. Now is the time to rally the troops and enjoy one of the many pumpkin patches in the area for all of your Halloween and culinary needs. What’s your favorite way to enjoy pumpkins?

Fun Facts

• Colonists sliced off pumpkin tops, removed seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin of pumpkin pie.

• The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over 5-feet in diameter and weighed more than 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.

• Pumpkins are a fruit and 90 percent water; members of the cucurbit family.

• Pumpkins range in size from less than a pound to more than 1,000 pounds.

• The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.

• It takes about 120 days for a pumpkin vine to produce mature pumpkins with vines up to 30 feet long.

Nutritional Benefits

The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against some degenerative aspects of aging.

Pumpkin Chili Recipe (6 servings)

• 1 lb. ground beef (or try ground turkey or half diced mushrooms and half meat)

• ½ cup onion, chopped

• 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin

• 2 cups water

• 1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans

• 1 pkg. taco seasoning mix

• 1½ tsp. chili powder

• 1 cup reduced-fat shredded cheese (optional)

• ½ cup low-fat sour cream (optional)

Directions:

1. Add beef and onion to a large saucepan. Cook until meat is brown and onion is soft. Drain excess fat.

2. Add pumpkin, water, beans, taco seasoning mix, and chili powder.

3. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

4. Garnish with cheese and sour cream, if desired.

Find more information on pumpkin history, varieties, recipes, farm locations, growing tips and fun facts at the University of Illinois Extension website: Pumpkins and More at https://extension.illinois.edu/pumpkins/

Kristin Bogdonas is the nutrition and wellness educator for University of Illinois Extension serving Henry, Mercer, Rock Island and Stark counties. To contact her about health and wellness programs, call 309-756-9978.

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