Illinois Is Nation’s No. 1 Producer of Pumpkins
Pumpkins grace our front porch by the first day of autumn in September, a timed habit inherited from my grandmother.
Corn shocks flank the porch steps and pumpkin-scented soaps pair with each bathroom sink. Our daughter, the resident baker, tempts taste buds with pumpkin coffee cake and pumpkin bars. The seasonal sweets round out meals in the field during harvest, just as my husband’s favorite pumpkin pecan pie tops off Thanksgiving dinner.
Adding to the pleasure, an Illinois farm more than likely grew the primary ingredient in that centerpiece holiday pie and those pumpkin-infused treats. The state handily ranks No. 1 for production of pumpkins. Specifically, the state’s farmers grow upward of 95% of the nation’s processing pumpkins (the type of pumpkins that people eat).
See more: Illinois: The Great Pumpkin State
An expert tells me that our state’s pumpkin plethora started about a century ago with the establishment of pumpkin processing plants in the Illinois River area, home to a favorable pumpkin-growing climate and soil type. During the last three years, Illinois farms have planted an average of more than 14,000 acres of pumpkins – double the next biggest state, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
We live 13 miles from one of the state’s two pumpkin processing plants. It only takes a country drive for our kids to annually witness acres of pumpkins from seed to sprawling vine to harvest. Sometimes, a local farmer has even planted processing-type pumpkins across the road from our house.
Contrary to the deep-orange jack-o’-lanterns that my kids grow for carving and decorating, processing pumpkins appear pale-orange and oblong with a meatier interior for cooking and canning.
See more: Pumped for Pumpkin Recipes
Around the time our family harvests corn and soybeans, the pumpkin harvest begins with tractors pushing the pumpkins into rows. The workers then use harvest machines to elevate those orange rows into wagons. After sunset, the crew uses portable stadium-style lights for the thumping harvest rhythm to continue through the night.
Even months past fall’s final pumpkin bar, I sometimes add a dash of pumpkin spice to my morning shake or evening bowl of oatmeal. The pumpkin flavor associates my soul with the comforts of fall, my favorite season. My mind drifts to scenes of harvest, crisp air and wiener roasts, held just steps away from our pumpkin-adorned porch.
About the author: Joanie Stiers’ family grows corn, soybeans and hay and raises beef cattle and backyard chickens in west-central Illinois.