Land of Pumpkin: Good year for gourds
By Chris Cashman For Sun-Times Media September 25, 2013 7:30PM
Pumpkins on display at Kroll’s Fall Harvest Farm in Waukegan. | Photo by Dylan Kroll/For Sun-Times Media
The top 10 pumpkin-producing counties in Illinois are Tazewell, Kankakee, Mason, Logan, Will, Marshall, Kane, Pike, Carroll and Woodford.
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.
The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.
Source: University of Illinois Extension
• DIDIER FARMS: 16678 W. Aptakisic Road, Prairie View. (847) 634-3291; www.didierfarms.com. Didier Farms grows a wide variety of pumpkins, including Big Macs that weigh more than 50 pounds. Activities include hay rides and corn maze. The farm stand is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pumpkin Fest runs through Oct. 31. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
• KROLL’S FALL HARVEST FARM: 13236 W. Townline Road, Waukegan. (847) 662-5733; www.krollsfarm.com. This year’s corn maze depicts a honey bee hive and honey bees. Visitors play a game in the maze helped by information and checkpoint signs. The emphasis is on agricultural education. The festivities run through October. The hours are noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
• PATCH 22: 15900 Kelly Road, Wadsworth. (847) 336-0120; www.patch22.biz. Pick pumpkins from a pony patch. Pony rides are open Saturdays and Sundays in October, and kids who ride can pick free pumpkins while they last. The first couple of weekends will be the best time to pick pumpkins, which will also be available in the yard all month. Visit from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
• SUSANNA FARMS: 24153 Townline Road, Lake Villa. (847) 838-0798; Open daily through Oct. 27. Features farm animals, a five-acre corn maze and mini-maze, hay rides and a kid-friendly obstacle course. Pumpkins, mums, decorative plants, corn stocks as well as additional ornamental plants fill the corral. School groups, Scout groups, birthday party and private party rates available. Admission is $8.
• COUNTRY BUMPKIN GARDEN CENTER: 27691 N. Gilmer Road, Mundelein. (847) 566-2176. Celebrate Pumpkin Fest every day Sept. 28 through Oct. 31. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Traditional Pumpkin Pie
This recipe is close to the famous classic pumpkin pie, but with less butter and skim milk instead of cream. The flavor is just as good as Grandma’s pie. Make your own crust or buy a frozen crust and allow it to thaw for a few minutes at room temperature.
One 9-inch unbaked pie shell
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups pumpkin puree or 1 can (16 ounce) solid pack pumpkin
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon grown cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
1 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large bowl, add filling ingredients in order given. Mix well with electric mixer or by hand.
Pour into pie shell. Bake 15 minutes. Then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for an additional 45 minutes or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool slightly and serve warm or chilled. Makes one 9-inch pie.
Source: University of Illinois Extension
Updated: November 25, 2013 2:48AM
The Land of Lincoln could easily be called the Land of Pumpkin.
Illinois leads the nation in pumpkin production. According to the University of Illinois Extension, pumpkins are grown on more than 12,000 acres in the state. More than 90 percent of the pumpkins processed in the United States are grown in Illinois.
Abe would be proud.
While Lake County doesn’t have nearly the pumpkin production of some other Illinois counties, it does have its share of pumpkin patches.
Brothers John, Rick and Dave Didier were in the fields this week harvesting pumpkins on their 40 acres at Didier Farms, 16678 W. Aptakisic Road in Prairie View.
“We have a good crop,” John said. “It was hot and dry this summer and (pumpkins) like it hot and dry.”
Pumpkins are sold by the pound at Didier Farms. The price is 49 cents a pound, same as last year, he said.
Susanna Farms, 24153 W. Townline Road, Lake Villa, grows pumpkins on a smaller scale. “We grow some here so people can see them growing at different places on the farm,” said owner Dan Heffernan.
“We do a lot of school groups. We have a regular program we put on for kids that follows the life cycle of the pumpkin — from a vine to a flower, and all of a sudden a pumpkin starts growing,” Heffernan said.”
Patch 22, 15900 Kelly Road, Wadsworth, also grows pumpkins for school groups.
“Our primary business is pony rides and petting zoos and hay rides,” said owner Dan Kelly. “The pumpkin patch is an addition to that. It’s very popular.”
Patch 22 has been growing pumpkins the past five years. “We’re fairly new to the pumpkin-growing business,” Kelly said.
“We try to do it a little more natural and organic,” he said of his pumpkin patch. “The big farmers require a lot of pesticides. It’s a little more challenging without using chemicals.”
This year’s crop is one of his best yet. “They’re pretty good. It was one of the better years” for growing, Kelly said. “The pumpkins are decent this year. I was pretty happy.”
Randy and Ruthann Kroll grow pumpkins on about three acres at Kroll’s Fall Harvest Farm, 13236 W. Townline Road, Waukegan.
They’ve been growing pumpkins there for 21 years.
“There was a time we were growing 10 acres of pumpkins when we did just pumpkins,” Randy Kroll said. “But with the corn maze, we kind of ran out of space to do full pumpkins, so I have another field in Wisconsin that I rent, and then I have two other farms that grow for me.
“With the corn maze, we have such a clientele we needed more pumpkins that we could even grow ourselves,” Kroll said.
“We started out with just an acre of pumpkins, and after seven or eight years we were up to 10 acres,” he said.
“We noticed people were buying pumpkins and just leaving, so we decided we needed to do something else, and 11 years ago we started the corn maze.”
Kroll said pumpkins need a lot of space to grow. His pumpkins are planted two feet apart in rows that are eight-feet wide.
Kroll said he has harvested most of his pumpkins, but “there are still a few in the field that need to come out.”
“Things went really well, even though we had a mini drought toward the end of August and beginning of September,” he said of this year’s crop.
“Their roots can go up to 10 feet deep, so they can survive some bad times. The critical times are their early growing period. Once they get to full-size plant, they’re pretty amazing on how well they handle (different conditions),” Kroll said.
“The biggest problem with pumpkins is you don’t want too much rain — you don’t want them to be flooded. Even though pumpkins are 90 percent water, they don’t want to be sitting in water.”
Other problems faced by pumpkin growers are bugs, viruses, mildew and diseases that can affect the crop.
“We’ve all gone through those at different times. It’s never a sure thing. You’re always worried and hope that everything goes well,” Kroll said.
“Pumpkins are a pretty amazing plant.”