Thursday October 24, 2013 | 11:16 AM

"It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" will air on Thursday, October 31 at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

Before we launch into the goodness of pumpkins, Happy Food Day!  This is the third year of the campaign and the second Maine has gotten involved. When it comes to supporting real food Maine knows how to step up and with support from U.S. Senators Angus King and Chellie Pingree, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, Portland Public Schools, Good Shepherd Food Bank, Maine Farm to School, and Hannaford Supermarkets it is doing just that. For more information go here.

Pumpkins, From the Ground Up

According to Mark Hutton, the University of Maine’s Extension Vegetable Specialist, despite excessive rainfall, overall this was a pretty good year for pumpkin production. However, scattered throughout the state, some growers were negatively impacted due either to delays in planting or timing of pollination.

Disease pressure was moderate to moderately low, but pumpkin growers did see a lot more instances of the disease Plectososporium Blight. “Weather conditions were such that we had a lot more this year than in last couple years,” said Hutton. “It has been an important disease for the past 10 years. Some years worse than others. It can affect yields and quality.”

The disease leaves white lesions all over the fruit, making it unmarketable. Hutton said sometimes the lesions are just on stem, but if it comes in early enough it can kill the plant.

Plectososporium Blight was first reported in the United States in Tennessee in 1988 and in Virginia in 1994. Researchers at Cornell University found evidence as of 2003 it was in Connecticut, where one farm lost 60-70% of their pumpkin crop. 

Most pumpkins grown in Maine stay in state as Halloween decorations. If you purchase your pumpkin at a supermarket, chances are it could be from out of state as Maine is still a net importer of pumpkins.

Image Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company, 1956.

One Pumpkin is Not Like the Other
Johnny’s Selected Seeds sells 65 varieties of pumpkins, and according to Hutton the “jack-o-lantern stable” of pumpkins in Maine probably has 20 varieties. They vary in habitat (bush or vine), fruit size, shape, color (yellow to deep burnt orange), and whether smooth or deeply ribbed.

Pumpkin Picking, Buying, and Cooking Tips
Did you know jack-o-lanterns and other Halloween customs were brought to the United States by Irish immigrants? It’s true, check out the fun story behind one of Halloween’s great traditions here

Check out this site for pumpkin patches in Maine, however make sure to phone ahead as this site is infrequently updated.

Look for a pumpkin that is firm (no soft spots) and has its stem intact.

While larger pumpkins are easier for jack-o-lanterns, smaller pumpkins are best for pies.

My favorite recipes using pumpkin are Pumpkin, Sage, Chestnut, and Bacon Risotto by Jamie Oliver from Amanda Hesser’s The New York Times Cookbook and Bill Neal’s Pumpkin Ginger Pie from his book Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie

The Pioneer Woman gives step by step instructions for making homemade pumpkin puree.  I recommend using it in this recipe by Jen Yu for Pumpkin Crème Brulee

Image by Jennifer Yu.

Do not toss the pumpkin seeds, they contain about 25% protein, useful amounts of minerals and the vitamin B complex, and are delicious roasted in the oven with a little olive oil and sea salt. (Discard pulp, rinse seeds, spread on a cookie sheet to dry for several hours. Toss in olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and bake in the oven at 300 for approximately 45 minutes. Toss every 20 minutes.)

Don’t let your leftover pumpkin go to waste on November 1st! Check out these tips from the Farmers Almanac on freezing fresh pumpkin. Is your pumpkin starting to rot? Farm animals love pumpkins; especially pigs so gift yours to a local farmer. Have a compost pile, great chop the pumpkin up and toss it in.

About this Blog

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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