Finding canned pumpkin over the past year felt a bit like tracking down Justin Bieber tickets. You needed to work the phones, show up early and still pray for a bit of luck.
A poor harvest combined with trendy status meant that pumpkin was a precious commodity, and Nestle -- which has cornered nearly 85 percent of the market with its Libby brand -- couldn't meet demand. But the pumpkin giant has promised that a better harvest this year, which included more pumpkins, should ensure that there you'll be able to find canned pumpkin come Thanksgiving.
It turns out that rain levels in central Illinois are critical to the pumpkin harvest. A story in The Washington Post this summer noted that 95 percent of all domestically grown pumpkins are cultivated and canned in the Land of Lincoln. Heavy rains -- twice the annual average -- and a lack of sunshine last year made for a poor harvest, the third consecutive subpar crop. In July, Nestle reported that it had only six cans of canned pumpkin left from the 2009 harvest.
When grocery stores ran out, people turned to unusual places to buy canned pumpkin, including eBay, where the resale market was strong. As of this morning, there were 74 auctions for canned pumpkin still on the site. The news of the shortage ending will likely put tie off that secondary market.
If you need cooking ideas, you can always find inspiration in this list of Top 10 pumpkin dishes in the city (although Superman has closed and Dog Nuvo will be taking its place). And if a shortage happens again -- which, based on the market share of the Libby brand and centralized growing fields, is a distinct possibility -- remember that canned butternut squash is a viable substitute.
For now, it looks like grocery store shelves will be stocked for the last three months of the year, when 80 percent of the annual sales of canned pumpkin occur. And that's something that should have all of us giving thanks.
[Image via Flickr: cardamom]