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Pumpkins—everyone loves them! We smash them from catapults—carve intricate designs into their flesh—tell stories about them in folklore—Cinderella even rode in one—and Peter-Peter Pumpkin eater put his wife into one---but that's a whole other story…it's pumpkin season. We see them heaped into huge boxes at the grocery store—piled into wagons at roadside stands and growing in the fields as we drive along our country roads. Illinois is pumpkin country. In fact, we raise more pumpkins than any other state—yes, here where corn is king the lowly pumpkin would surely be a prince!

We love their unique shapes vibrant or dusty colors—they make beautiful decorations. But their beauty is more than skin deep. Pumpkins are a "super food"—low calorie and packed with nutrition. I cup of cooked pumpkin contains 49 calories and is a major source of an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body.

Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protect against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well as some degenerative aspects of aging.

Wow—if that isn't enough to make you want to try it then consider how versatile it is. Way beyond pumpkin pie, the pulp of this fleshy squash can be used in sloppy joes and savory soups, dried for fruit leather and cut into chunks and roasted. If you don't want to scoop out the stringy seeds and cut up the shell simply buy canned pumpkin. It is just as healthy and chances are it came from Illinois, in fact Morton Illinois is the "Pumpkin Capital of the World", http://www.pumpkincapital.com/.

Impress your friends with these fun facts:

  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.
  • Pumpkins are members of the vine crops family called cucurbits.
  • Pumpkins originated in Central America.
  • In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.
  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.

Find more info, recipes and more at: http://extension.illinois.edu/pumpkins/facts.cfm