You wouldn’t want to meet this pumpkin on a deserted road in the middle of a dark night…

By Mary Marek
Posted 10/14/99

A person in my position has to expect a few wacky phone calls. People know I’m always looking for story ideas and are liable to call me with some pretty weird ideas of what I should write about. …

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You wouldn’t want to meet this pumpkin on a deserted road in the middle of a dark night…


A person in my position has to expect a few wacky phone calls. People know I’m always looking for story ideas and are liable to call me with some pretty weird ideas of what I should write about. I’m not complaining. I like getting these phone calls – even the weird ones.

Anyway, when I answered the phone at work last week and young Stephanie Miller from Riverside suggested I might want to come take a picture of the pumpkin her dad grew, I wasn’t too excited about the idea. I’ve taken pictures of stranger things though, so I figured what the heck, I might as well go see the pumpkin. After all, according to Stephanie, it was the second largest pumpkin in the state of Iowa.

Now, we often have people bring fruits and vegetables into the office to show us how weird or big they are. We’re always willing to take a picture of whatever it is and I’ve truly been impressed with some of the plant life I’ve seen. I’ve never had to go to the fruit before, though. It usually comes to me.

Stephanie gave me directions on how to get to their house and, as soon as I pulled in the driveway, I saw why the pumpkin couldn’t make the trip to Kalona. That thing is huge!! I’ve seen cars smaller than that pumpkin.

Stephanie’s dad, Dave Miller and her brother, Tim became serious pumpkin growers about three years ago. Their first attempt wasn’t too impressive, at least not by their standards. The biggest pumpkin in their patch weighed in at less than 100 pounds. I personally would have been pretty impressed if I’d grown a 100-pound pumpkin, but not the Millers. They knew they could do better.

They’ve learned a lot since then. By experimenting with different types of fertilizer – hog, cattle and man-made (as in the kind you buy from a fertilizer salesman) – and utilizing precise crop management techniques, they really out-did that first pumpkin.

The star of last year’s pumpkin crop weighed-in at more than 300 pounds. Were the Millers satisfied? No way. Dave did some research and developed his own strain of pumpkin, hoping to beat his own record and maybe grow one big enough to enter in competition.

Well, it worked. At the recent 11th annual Ryan Norlin Pumpkinfest and Weigh-off in Anamosa, the Millers’ 525.7 lb. pumpkin was declared the second largest in the entire state of Iowa. Steve Krug of Amana won the Pride of Iowa award with a 603.2-pounder.

As impressive as that may sound, bear in mind the winning pumpkin at the Weigh-off tipped the scales at 837 pounds (it came from Minnesota, by the way). Miller said even that pumpkin wouldn’t win a national weigh-off. He’s heard of pumpkins weighing more than 1,000 pounds. He’s also been told he’ll never grow a 1,000-pound pumpkin in Iowa. Supposedly, our weather is too humid for giant pumpkins. That may be true, but if anyone can do it, I’m betting it will be Dave Miller. This is one determined pumpkin grower.

What does one do with a 500-pound pumpkin? Anything it wants.

Seriously, they’re really not good for much, practically speaking. But they don’t have to be. As far as I can tell, the whole purpose of growing one of these great big giant pumpkins is simply to grown one of these great big giant pumpkins. Pride of accomplishment. And that’s enough.

I suppose you could carve a really big, scary Jack-O-Lantern out of one. They make great centerpieces in fall lawn displays. In fact, Miller has sold several for that purpose. You don’t have to worry about kids picking it up out of your yard and splattering it on the sidewalk. Even if they could lift it, Dave told me nothing short of an axe would penetrate its skin. He said the rind on one of his pumpkins is 3-4 inches thick.

He has sold several and told me about one lady who came to buy one. He told her to pick one out of the patch and he’d load it for her. After walking around for a while and looking at the possibilities, she finally asked Dave if he had one that would fit in her car. He didn’t.

That’s not really a problem, though. If all else fails, Dave just might deliver it right to your door. You’d better hope that’s not where he leaves it, though. You’d be stuck in your house. It’s not easy to move a 500-pound pumpkin.

How does one move a pumpkin that large, you ask? I asked Dave that question and he showed me the sling he had made just for that purpose. I suppose pumpkin slings can be made out of any strong, durable material, such as canvas, but Dave’s sling is special. It’s made from a piece of the old dome at the University football practice field. Dave had nylon loops sewn around the sling and he said that you tip the pumpkin up and shove the sling under it. Then you find about a half dozen very strong guys to grab the nylon loops and at the count of three, you all lift.

If you’re moving it more than a very short distance, you find a tractor with a loader or a forklift.

What else can you do with a giant pumpkin? I haven’t the faintest idea. I’ve been told they’re not much good for pie because their pulp is quite bland. You sure could get a lot of pies out of a 500-pound pumpkin, though, couldn’t you?

If the pumpkin is big enough to place in competitions, you might sell its seeds to other pumpkin fanatics.

While I was at the Millers’, Dave gave me a tour of his pumpkin patch. That place is really scary. I felt like I’d stumbled into a science fiction movie, “Invasion of the Pumpkin Pod People” or something. I don’t think I’d like it there at night.

If you’d like to see the Second Largest Pumpkin in the Whole Wide State of Iowa, the Millers would be happy to have you stop by. If you want to buy one of your very own, take a really big truck. They live a couple of miles south of Riverside on the Riverside Road. You can’t miss the house. It’s the one with the big orange lawn ornament in the front yard.

And thanks for calling, Stephanie, I truly enjoyed meeting you and seeing your dad’s pumpkin.

This week’s recipes

I’ll bet you’re expecting to find pumpkin recipes here this week. Well, I’d hate to disappoint you, so here you go. These recipes all come from one source, “Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets” by Esther H. Shank. Enjoy.

Cheese-Stuffed Pumpkin Muffins

(These muffins have a surprise center of cheese that gives the effect of pumpkin pie.)

Have ready:

1 (3-oz.) pkg. Cream cheese, cut in 12 cubes

Cinnamon and sugar to garnish

Combine in bowl:

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

3 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Mix, then add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened:

2 eggs, slightly beaten

3/4 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup melted butter or margarine

1/4 cup sour cream

Fill greased muffin cups 1/3 full. Place a cheese cube in center of each. Add remaining batter to fill cups 2/3 full. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 375 degrees 18-20 minutes.

(For coffee cake, spread half of batter in a greased 9-inch square pan. Arrange cheese cubes evenly over the batter. Top with remaining batter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake approximately 30 minutes.)

Yield: 12 muffins

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds


1 1/2 tbsp. margarine, melted

1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 cups unwashed pumpkin seeds

Mix thoroughly. Place in shallow baking dish. Bake at 275 degrees for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Beat together well:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

2 cups brown sugar

Add, beating until fluffy:

2 egg yolks, 1 tsp. vanilla

Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with pumpkin:

4 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin

Drop onto greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Fill with following filling.


Beat together thoroughly:

2 egg whites

2 tsp. clear vanilla

1/4 cup flour

3 tbsp. milk

2 tbsp. powdered sugar

Add, beating until fluffy:

1 cup Crisco

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Spread between cookies.