Morton Pumpkin Festival Celebrates Pumpkin Capital

Did you know that ninety-five percent of pumpkins for processing in the United States are grown in Illinois? Specifically, they’re grown in and near Morton, a town southeast of Peoria, home to a large Libby’s cannery. Every September, Morton celebrates its pumpkin industry with the Morton Pumpkin Festival.

Morton Pumpkin Festival

In this podcast episode, we chat about the Morton Pumpkin Festival. I found out about the festival a few years ago when I saw it featured on the Food Network. I had wanted to go to it ever since, and we had the opportunity to do so in 2017.

Thank you to Enjoy Peoria for hosting our visit to the Morton Pumpkin Festival.

Listen to the Morton Pumpkin Festival podcast:

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Morton Pumpkin Festival Carnival and Pumpkin Decorating Competition

We went to the festival on Friday evening and again on Saturday. On Friday we went to the carnival, walked the midway, browsed the vendor booths, and checked out the pumpkins entered into the pumpkin decorating competition. Children ages 4 to 12 enter the pumpkin decorating contest based on age. Adults or families can also enter a decorated pumpkin. We were impressed with the pumpkins that were entered, many of them decorated to fit the 2017 festival theme, “Das Pumpkin.”

Pumpkin Pancake Breakfast

People we spoke with on Friday evening encouraged us to get to the pancake breakfast early on Saturday. They told us that they serve from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and the lines can be long. We heeded their advice and got there early. The line was already outside the serving tent, but it moved rather quickly. The pancakes and sausage were definitely worth the fifteen or so minutes we stood in line. By the time we left, the line was much longer, extending several hundred feet. We were glad we got there early!

Pumpkin Festival Parade

The Pumpkin Festival Parade on Saturday is a highlight. It’s a typical small-town parade, with floats and marching bands, but it’s extensive, lasting almost an hour. Kids come armed with bags to carry the candy they catch that the folks on floats toss.

We were impressed with the float carrying the winner of the Pumpkin Weigh-off. The pumpkin weighed a whopping 768 pounds! How do you even harvest a pumpkin that heavy?

Crafts and Entertainment

Following the parade we wandered through the craft sale area. If you were short on Halloween decorations, this was the place to buy them. No time to carve a jack-o-lantern? Some vendors sold pre-carved pumpkins—some real pumpkin and some of other materials.

I was happy to see that chairs were set up near the main entertainment stage. So often festivals have entertainment stages but no place to sit and enjoy the event. The stage was also near the area where they served the pancake breakfast, so picnic tables were available for seating, too.

But wait…there’s more!

As I mentioned, we spent only Friday evening and part of Saturday at the festival. The festival officially begins on Wednesday evening and goes through Saturday evening. However, some events, like boat races, a bike ride, and a tennis tournament begin on the previous Saturday, and other competitions take place during the week.

Other competitions include a pumpkin recipe challenge, pumpkin pie eating contest, a pumpkin idol junior contest (ages 8 to 12). Click here for the full list of 2018 competitions and shows.

2018 Morton Pumpkin Festival Details

The 2018 Morton Pumpkin Festival official opening ceremony begins at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, September 12, and the festival runs through Saturday, September 15.  But as I mentioned, some competitions begin as early as Saturday September 8.

In fact, the 2018 Great Pumpkin Pin Search actually began in August. Each Friday another clue is posted on the festival website and on the festival Facebook page. The sites will also announce when someone finds the pin.

Check the Morton Pumpkin Festival website for the 2018 festival daily schedule.

Food at the pumpkin festival—and beyond

The Morton Pumpkin Festival offers lots of good food, including a pumpkin sweet shop, the pumpkin grill that serves sandwiches, a pumpkin drive-thru with a limited menu, and of course, carnival foods.

If you’re looking for something more substantial, we suggest Seasons Gastropub, located in downtown Morton, just a couple blocks from the festival. We ate there on Friday evening. We chose brisket and smoked meatloaf. It was the first time they served smoked meatloaf. They found a winner. We loved it and apparently others do do, since it’s still on the menu a year later.

Besides a large indoor dining area, Seasons Gastropub also offers plenty of outdoor patio seating, as well. 

Accommodations

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites during our visit to the Morton Pumpkin Festival. Check rates and reviews on TripAdvisor

Morton Pumpkin Festival Carnival

Morton Pumpkin Festival Crafts and Food

Morton Pumpkin Festival Parade

Seasons Gastropub
Looking for a change from festival or carnival fare? Seasons Gastropub, a short walk from the festival, is a good choice.

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Morton Pumpkin Festival

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