There’s no denying America’s love affair with the pumpkin, the spooky squash. With its vibrant colors, it reigns as the king of fall, looming large over our folklore, traditions, and holiday dishes. There are many different types, like the Howden-type which, with its size and relatively hollow inside is good for carving Jack-o-lanterns; there are also heirloom pumpkins, and pumpkins in various shapes and colors. The USDA reports that over the last 15 years, the U.S. has increased pumpkin production by 31%, from 1.46 billion lbs in 2000 to 1.91 billion in 2014. It makes sense, as pumpkins have a variety of seasonal uses, both culinary and cultural. From pumpkin patches at county fairs to Jack-o-lanterns on front porches during Halloween weekend, the pumpkin is ubiquitous with autumnal activities. Ever heard of pumpkin chucking, the game in which people see who can hurl a pumpkin the furthest through solely mechanical means?
In addition to the many recreational and ornamental roles that pumpkins play in the zeitgeist, it’s also a culinary staple around this time. Nearly every part of the pumpkin is edible, from the seeds to the flesh to the flowers. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice lattes (which Starbucks reportedly plans to start making with real pumpkins), guacamole with pumpkin seeds, pumpkin stews, pumpkin porters, brown ales, and other beers…the list goes on. The reason why the shortage wasn’t felt quite as much around Halloween? Because the shortage primarily concerns processed pumpkins.
Six states produce over half of the country’s supply of pumpkins: Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.
Now we’re not trying to insinuate that the pumpkin pie at your family’s annual Thanksgiving dinner isn’t fresh…but chances are, the pie is made from canned, processed pumpkin. It’s more convenient and efficient than casually carving a few pumpkins amidst the tumult of Thanksgiving. And as you can see, the core of the processed pumpkin industry is concentrated in Illinois. Tazewell County, in Illinois is the largest producer of pumpkins in the country, and there are several canning facilities in the area. Heavy rains during the Illinois planting season have resulted in a nationwide shortage that will soon be reflected, if it hasn’t already. CNN reported that the harvest ended early and supply was down by about half. It’s estimated that we’ll have enough pumpkin to last through Thanksgiving, but it may be sweet potato or apple pie for Christmas. Someone tell my grandma to hit the grocery store early this year!