One of autumn’s fun activities is a trip to the pumpkin patch to pick the best pumpkin. When you find that perfect orb to fashion into a jack o’ lantern or to decorate your front porch, you’ll know that fall has arrived! Read on for hints and tips on how to pick the best pumpkin for carving or cooking.
Before You Go
With the huge variety of pumpkin varieties, colors, shapes and sizes available, it’s good to know what type of pumpkin you’re looking for before you visit. Are looking for a pumpkin to enhance your fall décor? To carve for Halloween? To make a pumpkin pie? There’s a pumpkin that’s perfect for each use.
An easy way to check if a pumpkin is fresh is by tapping on the side with your knuckle. If you hear a slightly hollow sound, this means the pumpkin is fresh. If you hear a loud thud, the pumpkin may be past its prime. It’s best to choose a pumpkin that feels firm and heavy for its size. Make sure the stem is strong and solidly attached; signs of a healthy pumpkin. A pumpkin with a green stem has been recently harvested. A pumpkin that has been stressed because of lack of water or nutrients may have a brittle, dry stem that easily breaks.
Check the pumpkin for any cracks, wrinkles, cuts or soft spots. If any of these are present, the pumpkin won’t last long. Flip the pumpkin over and press on the bottom with your thumb. If it gives or flexes the pumpkin is no longer fresh. To pick the best pumpkin, choose one with an overall, even coloring. A heavily mottled skin may mean decay.
Check the Pumpkin’s ‘Balance’
Place your potential winner on a flat surface. Is it a little tipsy? Press on the top and sides. Does it wobble? If so, the bottom may be uneven. Pick a pumpkin with a stable, flat base especially if you plan to light the inside with a regular votive or tea candle.
Thick or Thin
The heavier the pumpkin, the thicker the walls. If you’re planning on carving a finely detailed Jack to greet trick-or-treaters, choose a smaller pumpkin as it will have thinner walls. Thinner walls allow more light to shine through. Save the larger pumpkins for more open designs requiring larger cuts.
Pumpkins are available in a variety of colors including the traditional orange, white, blue, red, pink, tan and striped. Pick the best pumpkin for your desired use with our color guide below.
White pumpkins are popular because they provide a white ‘canvas’ for painted on designs and faces. Some pumpkin enthusiasts prefer white pumpkins as the flesh is a light yellow and outer skin is a milky white. This creates an eerie glow when the pumpkin is lit within. White pumpkin varieties include Baby Boo, White Ghost or Valenciano.
Striking and unusual, blue pumpkins stand out when mixed with their traditional bright orange or red cousins. Blue pumpkins are excellent cooking pumpkins. The flesh is mild and sweet adding great flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. Blue pumpkin varieties include Australian Blue, Jarrahdale, and Queensland Blue.
The khaki tan Musquee de Provence pumpkin originated in southern France. A large, squat, deeply ribbed fruit, it has a delicious, deep orange flesh which is popular with chefs. Other tan pumpkin varieties include Buckskin Kentucky and Dickinson Field.
For Good Eating, Pick a Plump One
Chubby is the top choice when it comes to a selecting a cooking or pie pumpkin. The difference between a carving pumpkin and a cooking pumpkin is the flesh. The flesh of cooking pumpkins is finer grained and sweeter than those of pumpkins grown for jack o’ lanterns. Whereas jack o’ lantern pumpkins are specifically bred for thick, firm rinds making for easier carving.
To pick the best pumpkin, choose one that feels heavy for its size. This means it will have more ‘meat’ or flesh. Plus, cooking pumpkins tend to get sweeter the longer they sit.
Preparing Fresh Pumpkin for Recipes
Fresh pumpkin can easily be frozen for later use in recipes. Here’s how:
- Remove the stringy pulp and seeds
- Cut the cooking pumpkin into large chunks
- Bake in the oven until tender
- With a spoon, scrape the cooked flesh from the rind, and into a bowl
- Use a potato masher to thoroughly mash until it’s a smooth consistency
- Portion the pumpkin into plastic freezer bags, flatten the bags and stack in the freezer
Now you’ll have fresh pumpkin ready for bread, pies, pancakes and stews, year round.
Cooking Pumpkins vs Carving Pumpkins
It’s been rumored that you can make a pie from a jack o’ lantern. But it’s not a good idea. Why? Pumpkins grown for jack ‘o lanterns are different than pie pumpkins. A pie made from a jack ‘o lantern is usually disappointing; stringy and bland tasting. And if you’ve had a burning candle inside you might detect a waxy or burned flavor as well!
Don’t forget to preserve your pumpkin after carving! Carved pumpkins can easily rot without proper preservation. Coating your pumpkin in Wet & Forget Outdoor will preserve your pumpkin from mold and mildew growths for multiple weeks. Learn more on our blog post here.
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