by Marnie Record, workforce specialist, LLCC
It’s hard to miss the vast sea of corn and soybeans seen from every interstate highway and back road in Illinois, but when it comes to pumpkin production, Illinois smashes the competition.
According to the Department of Agriculture, in 2012, Illinois’ 16,426 acres produced 556 million pounds of pumpkins. The majority of these orange globes are processed pumpkins grown for cooking and baking. An estimated 90 percent of the nation’s canning pumpkins grow in Illinois. As of last year, Illinois remained the leading processed pumpkin producing state, growing more than the next five leading states combined.
Illinois’ pumpkin reign dates back to the 1920s with the establishment of a canning plant in Morton. This plant now owned by Nestlé USA/LIBBY’S continues to utilize the rich farmland of the region to primarily package pumpkins grown from the seed of Dickinson pumpkins, a sweet yet meaty and hearty squash, with a high concentration of delicious bright orange flesh. Illinois is also home to a pumpkin processing facility 30 miles to the north of Morton in Princeville. Seneca Foods processes pumpkins from this factory for various grocery stores’ private labels.
Fresh pumpkins can be used in place of canned pumpkins for a taste of autumn made from scratch. Typically called pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins, the baking and cooking varieties are different from the carving ones in that they have a sweet, dense flesh that isn’t at all stringy. I find the easiest way to prepare pumpkin puree is to cook the pumpkin whole on a baking sheet until tender and then run the flesh through a blender if needed. Cook several at a time and save some in the freezer for later use.
Pumpkins’ versatility lends well to almost anything you cook from savory soups and casseroles to sweet cookies and pies. Whether it’s canned from the store or fresh from a farmer, the pumpkin on your table is likely Illinois grown – a delicious way to support our neighbors and the Illinois economy.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
These can be made without the chocolate chips, but why! Nothing beats this muffin fresh out of the oven.
2 2/3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, melted and cooled
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
1 ½ cups fresh pumpkin
½ cup buttermilk
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 ounces chocolate chips
Grease or line muffin pan.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine dry ingredients – flour through salt and chocolate chips.
Mix butter, brown sugar, pumpkin, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients.
Spoon mixture into the muffin pans, filling each cup about two-thirds full.
Pumpkins and squashes are in the same family and are interchangeable.
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
One 4-pound sugar pie pumpkin
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 large or 6 medium garlic cloves, pressed or minced
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon cloves
Tiny dash cayenne pepper, if desired
Freshly ground black pepper
32 ounces vegetable broth
½ cup full fat coconut milk or heavy cream
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
¼ cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Roast the pumpkin whole, in halves or in large pieces. Rub olive oil over the flesh of the pumpkin and place cut sides down. After slightly cooled, peel skin off pumpkin.
Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add onion, garlic and salt to the skillet. Stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the pumpkin flesh, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cayenne pepper (if using) and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Pour in the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, toast the pepitas in a medium skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Transfer pepitas to a bowl to cool.
Once the pumpkin mixture is done cooking, stir in the coconut milk and maple syrup. Remove the soup from heat and let it cool slightly. You can use an emulsion blender to blend this soup in the pot or blend in batches.
Taste and adjust if necessary.
Ladle soup into individual bowls. Sprinkle pepitas on top of the soup and serve. Can store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Value-Added Local Food, Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, and Baking/Pastry, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.