Green for Halloween

Harold and Janet Lange display their exotic pumpkins/Photo by Sarah Arkin

The pumpkin is a versatile fruit.

You can carve it, bake it, mash it, turn it into pie or ravioli filling, or create a seasonal latte. Thanks to the pumpkin, October even has its own color scheme, and nothing screams Halloween more than a big orange jack-o'-lantern.

But the extended pumpkin family goes way beyond yellows and umbers. Some of the tastiest pumpkins are actually green and blue.

Janet and Harold Lange of Elwood, Ill., boast a large crop of cushaw and Jalhrude pumpkins.

Jalhrude pumpkins look like any average pumpkin; they are about the same size and have the same curvature and ridges. They just range in color from deep green to almost bluish. Sometimes called Australian Blue Pumpkins, the Jalhrude's meat is a "deep, gorgeous orange. Even darker than a sweet potato," according to Janet.

Janet believes that the cushaw pumpkin, which looks more like a large green and white splotched squash, makes the best pumpkin pies.

The Langes say they are the only cushaw and Jahlrude growers in their area. They once had a customer who drove to Iowa to get the delectable Jahlrudes before finding the Lange's fruit at a local farmer's market.

Both pumpkins start from specialty seeds, according to Harold Lange. The seeds, which can be hard to find, must be well spaced when planted, he said.

Because of their rarity some farmers will charge $12-15 for one Jahlrude, compared to a few dollars for a medium-sized orange pumpkin. The Langes sell one Jahlrude for $5, or two for $9.

This year, the couple's quarter-acre pumpkin plot yielded five armchair-sized boxes. "We had a fabulous year," said Janet Lange.

Both retired, Janet, 60, and Harold, 66, have operated their 15-acre farm for about 13 years. The only other help they get is from their youngest son, who is 36. As a high school teacher in Plainfield, Harold Lange helped his father operate the farm for 15 years before taking over full time. Janet was a baker with Cub Foods in Joliet for 18 years.

Although they are retired, the Langes work a lot. They get up at 3 a.m. four days a week to get to farmer's markets in the greater Chicago area. They set up shop at the Lincoln Square and Hyde Park farmer's markets in the city, and have a stand at the Naperville and Downer's Grove markets.

Harold's work begins in February when he starts cultivating seeds in the greenhouse. Janet takes care of most of the landscaping and housework. The couple also grows tomatoes, cucumbers, and a variety of seasonal squashes.

"It's a lot of work," said Janet, while thumbing through an album of photographs of her farm. She is less involved in the actual harvesting. "Waking up at 3 a.m. is enough for me," she said.