I'm no stranger to having large amounts of a particular food in storage. On any given day, we have far more than one hundred pounds of beef in our freezer, because my husband's family raises beef cattle. This time, I have devoted a little corner (okay, half a shelf) to canned pumpkin: 100% pure pumpkin, not the pre-sugared and spiced pumpkin pie mix. Why, you ask? It began with pumpkin shortage of 2009, stretched into the great pumpkin hoarding of 2010, and now has bakers everywhere asking if there is a pumpkin shortage 2011.
The canned pumpkin shortage of 2009 began when heavy rains in the Midwest destroyed most of an already meager pumpkin harvest. When Nestle, who controls approximately 85% of the canned pumpkin crop in the United States, issued an apology acknowledging the crop destruction, bakers streamed into stores and bought out the entire stock of the canned gourd.
Within a few short weeks, canned pumpkin went from being a year-round pantry staple to being seen as a specialty, seasonal item, leaving dusty shelves behind as a reminder for the remaining ten months of the year. Bakeries nationwide hoarded their stashes of cans, to ensure that pumpkin pie and pumpkin rolls would make it to customers' holiday tables. When the pumpkin was gone, it was gone.
As September 2009 rolled around, cooks started blogging about a potential pumpkin shortage again and people began patrolling stores, looking for the orange cans. When they finally did come out, they were released in grand fashion. Grocery stores built towering displays of canned pumpkin, vanilla, and aromatic spices to conjure up visions of the perfect fall cookies, breads, and pies. It worked; stores sold out of nearly all their pumpkin stock within a matter of a few weeks. A few cans were placed out from time to time over the fall and winter season, and then the supply dwindled. Just like that, the pumpkin was gone again.
It seems as though Mother Nature ran away with more than her share of pumpkin pie for the past couple of years, but now she has reversed her tactic. The super hot, dry weather in the United States during the summer of 2011 has been perfect for growing bumper crops of none other than the great pumpkin.
Libby's, the biggest name brand manufacturer of canned 100% pure pumpkin, issued a press release in August, 2011. "While much of the country has been suffering from unusually high temperatures this summer, the weather seems to be perfect for growing pumpkin! That's right, thanks to Mother Nature and the hard work of the dedicated pumpkin farmers in Morton, Illinois – the pumpkin capital of the world! - Libby's Pumpkin is happy to report that consumers will be able to find a bountiful supply of their beloved pumpkin on grocer's shelves in plenty of time for the 2011 holiday season."
As for pumpkin hoarding, employees of local markets have told me that throughout September, canned pumpkin is being bought up as quickly as they put it on the shelves. How long will this trend continue? Only time will tell.