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Pursuing Pumpkins: Shop early for jack-o'-lanterns, UD extension expert cautions

NEWARK, DE.--Looking for the perfect pumpkin? Dreaming about the rich, earthy smell of a freshly baked pumpkin pie?

Don't wait until the last minute to shop for pumpkins this year, a University of Delaware expert cautions: The supply is down this fall.

"First, the drought reduced the yield," says Ed Kee, a UD Cooperative Extension specialist for vegetables. "Then, the wet conditions at the end of August made matters worse because lots of moisture favors the development of fungal diseases."

Kee estimates a 20 percent reduction in the pumpkin yield for Delaware, and probably also for Maryland, which may result in higher prices throughout the area.

Even so, those pursuing pumpkins don't need to panic. "There are still lots of pumpkins around," Kee says. In the four-state region including Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, nearly 30,000 acres are planted with pumpkins each year, he explains. Most of those vegetables are used as Halloween decorations.

With 2,000 to 4,000 pumpkins produced per acre, depending on size, "That's a heap of harvest!" Kee notes. Despite the reduced yield, the region still offers some 70 million pumpkins, just waiting to be carved.

UD nutrition expert Marianne Carter recommends eating a little pumpkin this Halloween, too.

"Pumpkins are an excellent source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant linked to cancer prevention, as well as potassium," says Carter, a registered dietitian who serves as assistant director of nutrition and dietetics at the UD Wellness Center. "They're also low in calories and sodium, and contain no fat and cholesterol."

Carter suggests eating pumpkin in soups and casseroles, or as filling for pies, pumpkin bread and muffins. "Pumpkins also make excellent purees," she says. "Simply run cooked pumpkin through a blender and add a little butter, onions, salt and pepper!"

The following recipe "makes delicious muffins," Carter says, "and it will your house with a wonderful smell while baking."

Pumpkin muffins

1 cup raisins
1/2 cup water
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup, plus 4 tbsp. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 2 tsp. soda
3/4 tsp. cloves
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp. cooking oil
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

Soak the raisins in water while measuring other ingredients. Mix the pumpkin, sugar, eggs and spices. Add oil, mix well, and add flour and baking powder, along with half of the water-raisin mixture. Mix well and add the remaining raisins and water. Mix until smooth and drop into a well-greased muffin or cupcake pan. Bake at 400-425 degrees Fahrenheit, until tops spring back when pressed-about 15 minutes. Makes about 1 dozen large muffins, or a large loaf of pumpkin bread.

Pat McAdams, (302) 831-1356,; or
Ginger Pinholster, (302) 831-6408,
Oct. 18, 1999