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Mincemeat, anyone? Canned pumpkin runs low

A canned pumpkin shortage could force some people to do without their favorite pie this Thanksgiving, but it does not seem to have hit too hard in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Nestlé USA, which makes most of the nation's supply under the Libby brand, said rain in Illinois has ruined much of the 2009 pumpkin harvest.

Several north valley grocery chains still managed to get in a supply. Raley's this week advertised 29-ounce cans of pure pumpkin for $2.50.

"Our stores are currently not experiencing any shortages," spokeswoman Nicole Townsend said. "We have canned pumpkin available at our stores. We also do carry fresh pumpkin pies and frozen."

Save Mart managers were aware of Nestlé's trouble and arranged for organic canned pumpkin as a backup, spokeswoman Alicia Rockwell said. The stores also have pies.

"We should be good through Thanksgiving," she said, but Christmas is an unknown.

Shoppers can find pumpkin in some form -- canned or in fresh or frozen pies -- at stores such as O'Brien's, Safeway, Richland, Village Fresh and Cost Less.

Nestlé on Tuesday issued an apology about its canned pumpkin and said it expects to stop shipping the holiday staple by Thanksgiving.

In Southern California, Vons spokesman Daymond Rice said the chain has enough pumpkin to get through Thanksgiving, "however, we are concerned that we may not have enough -- or will not be able to acquire enough -- product to get through the full holiday season."

Albertsons said it thinks it has enough of the canned pumpkin to last through Thanksgiving.

The shortage affects the Libby's brand of 100 percent pumpkin in 15- and 29-ounce cans as well as Libby's Pumpkin Pie Mix in the 30-ounce can.

Some Southern California chains have been pushing fresh pumpkins.

Sprouts Farmers Market locations have featured displays of a smaller, plumper California-grown pumpkin species than what is sold for jack-o'-lanterns. A sticker with each pumpkin provides a pie recipe.

Shoppers are adapting.

Amy Davis of Anaheim is figuring out new ways to make pumpkin bread. Usually she uses canned pumpkin, but this year she is using packaged mix.

Davis also has figured out how to use other squash as a substitute.

"Add some allspice and cinnamon and you get something that tastes pretty close to pumpkin," she said. She said sweet potato pie makes a good substitute.

Nestlé say that once it runs out, it won't have more pumpkin to can until August.

This year's shortage started several months ago and was the result of Libby's not having much surplus from the 2008 crop as a carryover to sell in September.

"We hope Mother Nature is nicer to us next year, hopefully delivering less rain and more sunshine," said Paul Bakus, vice president and general manager of Nestlé Baking.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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