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‘More American than apple pie’

Pumpkins showcased at farm show

Pumpkin exhibit coordinator Beverly Gruber checks the exhibitor tag of a carving pumpkin at the 103rd Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg on Saturday. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

HARRISBURG — The pumpkin competition at the 103rd Pennsylvania Farm Show has grown to 12 competitive classes, however, the number of entries is down.

“The rain killed the pumpkins. A lot of rain caused powdery mildew which damaged the pumpkins. Last year we had a pumpkin over 800 pounds; this year they were rotted by the middle of September. The biggest one this year is only about 225 pounds,” said Beverly Gruber, president of the Allentown Fair and pumpkin exhibit coordinator.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2017 farmers in the top 16 pumpkin-producing states harvested 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins, implying about 2 billion pounds harvested in the United States.

Pennsylvania ranks first among the states in the number of pumpkin-producing farms and fifth among the states in pumpkin production.

The economic value of Pennsylvania-grown pumpkins was just more than $13 million, according to NASS.

Approximately 15 percent of the pumpkin acreage is used to make processed pumpkin products. Illinois remains the leading processed pumpkin producing state, producing more than the other five leading states combined and about half of the national total, according to NASS.

Pumpkins were originated in the southwestern United States, said Thomas Butzler, a Penn State extension horticulture educator.

“Pumpkins are a warm season crop and do well in our hot summers as long as they have water. Pumpkins originated in southwest U.S. and Mexico. So pumpkins are truly more American than apple pie — apples originated somewhere over near Russia — so maybe we shouldn’t be saying as American as apple pie, rather as American as pumpkin pie,” Butzler said.

However, too much rain can cause problems and downy and powdery mildew are two diseases that growers have to battle almost every summer, Butzler said.

The most common type of pumpkin grown in Pennsylvania is the typical orange that weighs about 15 to 25 pounds.

“There are so many choices and it depends on your market. We now have pumpkins that are white, with warts, pink, tall rather than round,” Butzler said.

Most of the pumpkins grown in Pennsylvania are used for decorative purposes.

“The decorative pumpkins have a much thicker skin and they are not good for pies. The ones used for pie have a much thinner skin,” Gruber said.

“Folks like to get festive and get their kids excited about the fall or maybe it’s the tradition passed on from family. People have always liked to decorate their front porches. In the summer it is hanging baskets and such, and in the fall it is mums and pumpkins,” Butzler said. “Me personally, I like to make pumpkin pie out of fresh pumpkins that I grow.”

The farm show, the nation’s largest indoor agricultural exposition, continues through Saturday.

Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free, and parking is $15 in the farm show lots.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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