Pumpkins this year are not great.
They are slightly more expensive than last year and there is an adequate supply, according to Washington area food store officials who are preparing now for peak sales of the pumpkin season, which generally begins in early October and ends with Halloween as families carve jack-o'-lanterns, bake pies and toast the seeds.
But reports on their condition are mixed, with some farmers and stores saying that quality had been damaged by excessive rains during the growing period. "Mush -- nothing there but mush and a lot of pumpkin pie," said Stanford Steppa, an owner of the Magruder's grocery stores. "I took one home last night and this morning all I had was a puddle of water."
At the Manor Lane Farms near Warrenton, farmer Jack Vinis said he had lost about three of the six acres of pumpkins he planted. Vinis blamed the rain that flooded parts of his farm last month. But he said the remaining three acres contain several hundred pumpkins of good quality that are available to pick-your-own customers, who often make the pumpkin hunting into a family outing into the country. The price is 15 cents a pound.
Some other stores and farmers, however, said weather conditions in their areas had been normal and that quality had not been affected. Representatives of both Giant and Safeway, the area's two largest food chains, said their pumpkins are as good as ever. In addition, George Roche, a marketing specialist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said major pumpkin growers in his state had had an average year.
But prices are higher at some stores.
Jumbo pumpkins weighing 25 to 40 pounds at Safeway supermarkets cost $4.49 this year -- up $1.50 from last year. Large pumpkins weighing 15 to 25 pounds are $2.59, up 70 cents, and medium pumpkins weighing 8 to 15 pounds are $1.29, up 30 cents. The small sugar pumpkins weighing up to 8 pounds are 29 cents a pound, up 4 cents a pound from last year.
Washington area stores typically buy their pumpkins from local farmers. Giant representative Sue Portney said her company purchased an entire pumpkin patch in Anne Arundel County to supply its supermarkets. Safeway pumpkins come from Maryland's Eastern Shore, the northern part of New Jersey and the Scranton, Pa., region.
Smaller retailers also deal directly with pumpkin growers.