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Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005 12:08 pm

When pumpkins fly

Fall’s the season to celebrate the cucumber’s popular cousin

art2412

As if being the nexus of the pumpkin universe weren’t awesome enough, Morton, Ill., is also home of the Aludium Q36 Pumpkin Modulator (essentially an enormous pumpkin cannon), a machine with no utilitarian value but really cool nonetheless.

Designed by Matt Parker, vice president of Morton-based Parker Fabrications Inc., and a few of his buddies, the Q36 weighs 20 tons, has a barrel 80 feet long and 10 inches in diameter, and can send pumpkins distances exceeding 4,000 feet.

Morton, which processes and cans 85 percent of America’s pumpkin crop at its Nestle SA-owned Libby’s plant, bills itself as the pumpkin capital of the world.

However, seizing on the rising popularity of the sport of pumpkin chucking, the little town of Lewes, Del., laid claim to the title of home of the World Series of Punkin Chuckin’.

Determined to preserve their town’s pumpkin legacy, Morton officials dispatched Parker’s crew to show Delaware, and the world, just what the Q36 could do. In 1998, charged with a portable air compressor, the Q36 slung one pumpkin a record 4,449 feet.

Even outside Morton, perhaps no other member of the squash family is more celebrated than the pumpkin: It’s been the stuff of which legends are made —from “Cinderella” to the first Thanksgiving feast.

It is fitting, then, that Illinois, home of the Q36 and the nation’s top harvester of the cucumber’s globular cousin, er, throws the greatest pumpkin parties on the planet.

Just about every town has a pumpkin patch or jack-o’-lantern-carving contest, but other noteworthy events this fall for lovers of the orange fruit around the state are scheduled.

The Great Pumpkin Patch(Sept. 9-Oct. 31)
Arthur
New additions to this year’s pumpkin patch at Bruce and Mary Beth Condill’s farm in the heart of Illinois Amish country include a children’s garden, bird display, and bigger picnic and garden areas. Old favorites include more than 700 pumpkin varieties, pumpkin ice cream, farm animals, concessions, and a gift shop. For more information, call 217-543-2394.

Pumpkin Festival (Sept. 14-17)
Punkin Chuckin’ Contest
(Oct. 22 and 23)
Morton
The celebration kicks off the pumpkin canning season with a parade, followed by carnival rides, entertainment, and a craft fair. Aside from the famous butterflied pork chops, the cuisine features all foods pumpkin: pancakes, ice cream, and, of course, pie. This year’s theme is “Great Pumpkins in History.” Contestants build their own pumpkin-ejecting contraptions and compete for youth and adult prizes at the annual Punkin Chuckin’ contest. Fairgoers will also get a rare glimpse of the Q36 in action. For more information, call 888-765-6588 or visit www.pumpkincapital.com.

Didier Farms Pumpkinfest (Sept. 24-Oct. 31)
Prairie View
The city of Prairie View paints the town orange with this pumpkin party, open seven days a week, which features “Scarecrow Alley,” Indian teepees, an educational farming display, a pig bin, baby chicks, hayrides, pony rides, pumpkin-picking, and a 5-acre corn maze. For more information, call 847-634-3291 or visit www.didierfarms.com.

Chicagoween (Oct. 14-31)
Chicago
Daley Plaza will be transformed into Pumpkin Plaza — presumably with the help of a fairy godmother — where worshipers of the orange gourds may decorate pumpkins, listen to storytellers, trick-or-treat, and win prizes at the costume parade down State Street. For more information, call 312-744-3315 or go to www.cityofchicago.org.

44th Annual Sycamore Pumpkin Festival (Oct. 26-30)
Sycamore
The Giant Pumpkin Weigh-In is just one of the highlights of this festival, held on the grounds of the DeKalb County Courthouse. A parade, craft show, pumpkin-pie-eating contest, and the annual 10,000-meter road race. Admission tops out at $5. The Quigley Farms pumpkin patch opens in late September. For more information, call 815-895-5161 or consult www.sycamorepumpkinfestival.com.

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