Which State Produces The Most Pumpkins In The US?

If you love carving jack-o'-lanterns, making pumpkin pie from scratch, or toasting pumpkin seeds for snacking, then you've probably been eagerly anticipating this time of year. Without even touching on decorative gourd season, which is also happening right now and also gets people pretty riled up (via McSweeney's), over the next couple of months the odds are good that your local grocery store, supermarket, and farm stand will boast robust displays of large, shiny-skinned, orange pumpkins

80% of the United States' pumpkin crop is picked during October, according to Zippia, so this month and next will be a ripe time to curate your Halloween display, stir together a pumpkin banana bread, or shake up a gingered pumpkin and rum cocktail. And if you happen to live in the Midwest, your decorative and edible fall pumpkins will be uber fresh and local, because that region is where the vast majority of the country's pumpkins are grown. 

Illinois grows more than 40% of the country's pumpkins

If you live anywhere near Illinois and you love visiting pumpkin patches, then you're in luck: The Midwestern state grew 41% percent of the country's pumpkin crop in 2020, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data cited by NBC News. That amounted to more than 564 million pounds of bright-orange fruit — yes, pumpkins are a fruit — grown over more than 20 square miles of Illinois farmland.

What makes the Prairie State so well suited to pumpkin-growing? Mac Condill, owner of the Great Pumpkin Patch in Moultrie County, told NBC that it's because of the weather. "Pumpkins like hot, dry weather, and typically in the Midwest, we will get that," Condill said. "We also have very well-drained soil. And so that helps pumpkins — they don't like wet feet." Other states where pumpkins like to grow include California and Texas, which each grew about 100 million pounds of the fall fruit in 2020.

Pumpkin heaven in Illinois

Illinois is a great place to head to if you want to carve a jack-o'-lantern, as the state grows many of the pumpkin variety known by the same name, but it also grows lots of the smaller, sweeter pumpkins known as sugar pumpkins that are excellent for all kinds of baking applications, from a classic pumpkin pie to an indulgent pumpkin gooey butter cake. Sugar pumpkins also shine in a variety of savory preparations, according to Martha Stewart, ranging from roasted pumpkin with shallots and sage to pumpkin and pecorino gratin.

And even if you don't feel like peeling and deseeding a whole pumpkin, know that it's likely that even the canned pumpkin you'll buy this season hails from Illinois. According to NBC News, Morton, Illinois is home to a Libby's plant, which was founded back in 1869 as a canned corned beef manufacturer. Libby's started canning pumpkin back in the 1920s and now it's the most well-known canned pumpkin brand in the country (via Allrecipes). NBC reports that the Morton plant produces 85% of the canned pumpkin sold in the U.S. This comes as no surprise, as the brand dominates the canned pumpkin section and the recipe for pumpkin pie printed right on the can is an extremely popular option for home bakers come Thanksgiving. 

California loves pumpkins, too

If you think the state of Illinois is pretty into pumpkins, then just wait until you hear about California. Another important grower of the fruit, the state produced more than 102 million pounds in 2020, according to NBC News — but quantity isn't the only way Cali goes big with its pumpkins. Each year, in early October, the city of Half Moon Bay in the northern part of the state hosts the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off, to which growers around the country tote the enormous pumpkins they've spent the season nurturing.

Last year, according to The Guardian, California grower Leonardo Urena of Napa Valley's Hudson Ranch produced a towering 2,000-pound pumpkin — which still wasn't big enough to beat Washington State grower Jeff Uhlmeyer's 2,191-pound specimen that netted him first place and the top prize of $19,719 (via ABC7). In 2019, Urena did take home first place with a 2,175-pound pumpkin — but the grower loves all his big squashes, prizewinners or not. "I hug my pumpkin and say, OK, my little turtle. Keep growing," he told The Guardian. "I know you are going to get to scale and everyone will be clapping at you."