I'll bet you ate some kind of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving last week. Or maybe pie isn't your thing. I bet you ate pumpkin bread, hummus, scones, cookies or cake instead. If you didn't enjoy the savory squash, you at least crossed paths with a can of pumpkin. And the can of pumpkin you encountered was most likely processed in Morton, Ill., "the pumpkin capital of the world."
This small central-Illinois town is a 40-minute drive northwest from the University of Illinois. Over 15,000 residents call its quaint confines home, and almost all of them will brag to a visitor about its pumpkin fame. This town is known for one thing: producing 85 percent of our nation's canned pumpkin supply.
The puree is cheap and flavorful, and it's found at most supermarkets. Although the industry faced limited supply during the 2009 holiday season, the pumpkins were ripe for the picking in fall 2010, resulting in copious cans. The limited supply in 2009 was the result of heavy Midwestern rains.
In 2010, however, not only did the weather cooperate, but Libby's, the king of canned pumpkin companies, planted more seeds of the Select Dickinson pumpkin, and planted them earlier. It helped make up for the one-third loss the company suffered in 2009.
Pumpkins are grown in a 50-mile radius surrounding the factory in Morton. Before the bad harvest season of '09, Libby's planted about 5,000 acres of pumpkins. Now, it plants even more for the estimated 50 million pies predicted to be eaten during the holiday season.
So the next time you pick up a can of pumpkin, take a second to remember where it came from: good ol' central Illinois.