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Picking the perfect pumpkin     Send a link to a friend

[OCT. 7, 2004]  URBANA -- The tradition of Halloween jack-o'-lanterns goes back to the Irish, who originally carved big turnips into jack-o'-lanterns, said Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator based in Chicago.

"With the influx of Irish immigrants into the United States, pumpkins became the fruit of choice for carving; and yes, pumpkins are a fruit, not a vegetable," he said.

Pumpkins are grown all over the world, including the state of Illinois. They are grown on every continent except for Antarctica.

"As a matter of fact, Morton, Ill., calls itself the 'Pumpkin Capital of the World,'" Wolford noted. "The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed over 1,140 pounds. That may be a little too big for a jack-o'-lantern."

Pumpkins are used to make pies, soups and breads. The biggest pumpkin pie ever made was over 5 feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It took over 80 pumpkins to make the pie. The seeds can be roasted for a delicious snack, and the large pumpkin flowers are edible.

Pumpkins are 90 percent water and contain potassium and Vitamin A.

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Wolford recommends the following few tips for selecting that perfect pumpkin:

  • Choose a pumpkin with a stem, but 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 rot.

  • 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.

For more information about pumpkins and a listing of local pumpkin farms, check out the website “Pumpkins and More” at www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins or call (773) 233-0476.

[University of Illinois news release]

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