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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005 02:58 pm

Pumpkin trivia

Fun facts, plus a recipe for peanut butter pumpkin dip!

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This week, as my children carved their second set of pumpkins (the first bunch succumbed to black mold, in part because of the warm weather), they had plenty of questions: How do pumpkins grow? How big can they get? What can you do with pumpkins besides carve them? Here are some pumpkin facts to share with your children, friends, and trick-or-treaters. The word “pumpkin” originated from the Greek word pepon, “large melon.” Though native to Central America, pumpkins have been grown in North America for around 5,000 years. The world’s largest fruits are giant pumpkins, some of which weigh in at more than 1,000 pounds. Pumpkins are members of the cucurbit (gourd) family. Other members of this family are squash, cucumbers, melons, and gherkins. Illinois farmers produce 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the United States — in 2001, the state produced 319 million pounds. Most of these pumpkins are processed into canned pumpkin and canned pie filling. Pumpkins grow in all shapes and sizes: big, small, round, tall, smooth, bumpy. They come in a variety of colors: orange, white, blue (the Australian Blue variety), red, tan (used for pumpkin pie), yellow (ripening), and green (unripe). Pumpkins are a healthy good source of vitamins A and B, potassium, protein, and iron. They’re also low in calories, fat, and sodium and high in fiber. Small pie pumpkins are the best for cooking. Pumpkin may be used in soups, pies, breads, casseroles, soufflés, or butters, and it’s delicious when steamed. Much of the pumpkin — pulp, seeds, and blossoms — is edible. Native Americans — who showed the Pilgrims how to plant pumpkins — dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. They also ate strips of pumpkin that had been roasted on an open fire. The pumpkin pie has its origins in a dish enjoyed by the colonists, who sliced off the top of the pumpkin, removed the seeds, and filled the inside with milk, spices, and honey, then baked the pumpkin in hot ashes.
The largest pumpkin pie ever baked was more than 5 feet in diameter and weighed more than 350 pounds. It required 80 pounds of pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, and 12 dozen eggs.
This week, take time to read your kids a story about pumpkins, then enjoy a pumpkin-based treat. Three of my favorite children’s stories about pumpkins describe the process of growing a pumpkin: It’s Pumpkin Time!, I’m a Seed, and Pumpkin, Pumpkin. Here are some other stories and books involving pumpkins: the nursery rhyme “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater”; the classic fairy tale “Cinderella”; The Great Pumpkin Strikes Again!, a Peanuts book; The Berenstain Bears and the Prize Pumpkin; Pooh’s Pumpkin; The Biggest Pumpkin Ever; and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Here’s a recipe for a snack that both children and adults will enjoy:
Peanut Butter Pumpkin Dip
1 cup canned pumpkin 3/4 to 1 cup brown sugar 1 cup peanut butter 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Enjoy this dip with apples or pear slices or on saltine crackers.
For more interesting facts about pumpkins, pumpkin fun, and pumpkin recipes, visit the University of Illinois Extension Web page “Pumpkins and More,” www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins/index.html.

Train to be a master gardener
Want to learn more about gardening and then share your knowledge with others? The University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener volunteer program may be for you.
To become a master gardener, all you need is an interest in gardening, a willingness to learn about horticulture, a desire to share your knowledge with others, and time to volunteer.
Master-gardener trainees receive 60 hours of in-depth unbiased, research-based classroom-style training from University of Illinois Extension educators and specialists.
After their training is finished, interns have many opportunities to complete the 60 hours required for them to gain certification. The volunteer program enables participants to serve their communities thorough horticulture education and promotes personal growth.
University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit is accepting applications until Nov. 11 for the winter training program. If you would like an application or more information, call 217-782-4617. For a more detailed description of the program or contact information for other extension-unit offices, visit the extension’s master-gardener Web site, www.extension.uiuc.edu/mg/.
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