Extension Educator, Horticulture
It's that time of year when our thoughts turn to pumpkins. We decorate with them, eat mass quantities of them, carve weird faces in them and even toss them. Few vegetables are as versatile. While researching this article I uncovered the seedy underbelly of our beloved 'punkin'.
Irish immigrants were responsible for bringing the tradition of pumpkin lanterns to the United States. In Ireland "All Hallows Eve" - October 31 - was celebrated as the end of the Celtic calendar year. In the beginning people would display hollowed-out turnips, potatoes, beets and rutabagas containing a candle on windowsills and porches as a welcome to deceased ancestors and as a warning to restless evil spirits such as "Stingy Jack". The story of "Stingy Jack" is a bit complicated but the premise is that "Stingy Jack" played a trick on the devil. That's never a good idea. The devil sent Jack into the night with just a burning coal for light. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and was destined to roam the Earth for eternity. The Irish referred to his ghost as "Jack of the Lantern," which was later shortened to "Jack O'Lantern."
For centuries people have made a contest out of tossing things – javelins, rocks, anvils, cheese wheels, pianos, frozen turkeys - you name it, somebody in the world is probably tossing it as a sport.
Pumpkins are no exception. Some pumpkin farmer looked at his excess crop and decided it would be fun to see how far the pumpkins could be tossed. Being Americans we couldn't leave it at just people power, so people with way to much free time invented the "Punkin Chucker". For almost ten years now in September in Morton Illinois people congregate to see who will be named the "Punkin Chucker Supreme".
Morton Illinois is the proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World. http://www.pumpkincapital.com/ Whenever you eat canned pumpkin, it almost assuredly came from Morton.
Morton's most famous chuckin' machine is the Q36 Pumpkin Modulator (air cannon) which established a Guinness Book World Record in 1998 with a chuck of 4,491 feet. Their hope is to throw the elusive mile. All you Road Runner cartoon fans will appreciate this trivia. Another chuckin' machine is the Acme Catapult. Its best throw was 1860 feet.
The largest pumpkin according to Guinness World Records was grown by Charles Houghton of New Hampshire. It weighed in at a very plump 1,337 pounds 9 ounces (606.7 kg) in 2002. Hopefully Chuck didn't decide to chuck that one.
More than 50 million pumpkin pies are devoured each year. Pumpkins and squash are nutritious containing potassium and Vitamin A and can be made into much more than pies. The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and a whole lot of whipped crème.
Pie pumpkins look very different from carving pumpkins and actually many varieties of squash make excellent pies. Folks at the Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur have an unbelievable variety of squash, gourds and pumpkins and can give you ideas on which ones are good for what. They were recently featured on Martha Stewart's TV program and in her magazine.
For more information U of I Extension Hort Corner - Pumpkins and More http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins/