Despite having a robust heirloom vegetable garden, we still have to go out and buy a pumpkin if we want to have sturdy Jack O’ Lanterns. The gourds and squashes that we grow on the farm are definitively in the “eating” category. We harvest Small Sugar and Cushaw Orange pumpkins, which are smaller than what you will find at the store or the pumpkin patch. These are also referred to as “pie pumpkins” and are sweet gourds with flavorful flesh.
If you ever see these types of pumpkins are your local farmer’s market, snatch them up and process them quickly. They are exquisite in a pumpkin pie, roasted slowly in the oven, or even in a cheesecake. But when it comes to decorative pumpkins, we have a few tips on finding the best one.
Give it a thorough inspection
This is one of those rare instances where a pretty appearance indicates high quality. Normally, we encourage people to try produce that’s a little on the ugly side, but if you want a pumpkin that lasts, prettier is better. Run your hands over the pumpkin and press your fingers in occasionally to check for soft spots. These denote areas where the pumpkin has either been injured or is starting to decompose. Check for wart-like growths, cuts or indents in the pumpkin skin. Blemished pumpkin skin means that your pumpkin will have a short shelf- (or porch-) life.
Color is everything
Your pumpkin should be uniformly orange from top to bottom. Check for any spots that are lighter in color, this may indicate frost damage, especially if you are getting your pumpkin towards the end of the season. You also want to avoid pumpkins with green spots (not ready yet) or brown spots (too ripe and starting to rot.) Soft spots that are also discolored mean that the pumpkin has not been handled with care.
Avoid picture-perfect pumpkin patches
Picking fruit right off the vine is a beautiful pastoral image. But when it comes to pumpkins, you want someone to have picked it for you. If pumpkins are still on the vine, it means that they aren’t mature enough yet. Picking them now may make for a great Instagram moment, but your gourd will start decaying quickly. So if you want to have a pumpkin that lasts until October 31st, go for one that is vine-less.
A good stem and a sturdy bottom
Ideally, you’ll want to pick a pumpkin with a flat bottom so that it’s harder to tip over. But we don’t mind a bumpy bottom every once in a while. Tap the bottom of the pumpkin a few times, it should sound hollow. A pumpkin that makes a muffled noise when tapped is past its prime. Tap around the stem of the pumpkin as well.
When it comes to your stem, you want one that is firm to the touch and well attached to the pumpkin. If the stem comes off with little effort, it’s overripe. After inspecting the stem, don’t touch it anymore. Carry your pumpkin in your arms or in a bag. Removing the stem makes pumpkins get mushy faster.
Now that you’ve picked your pumpkin, you’ve carved it and you’ve sorted and roasted your seeds, it’s time to preserve it. If you live in a climate like ours, you might find that your autumn weather isn’t always cool and crisp. Temperature changes, pesky insects and more are all lurking around, looking to take your Jack O’ Lantern from smiling to frowning fast.
Keep your pumpkin looking fresh until Halloween:
1. If the weather in your area is still fairly warm, it’s best to store your pumpkin inside at night. Keep it in a cool, dark place, preferably in the fridge. Cold storage makes pumpkins stay fresher, longer.
2. Scrape as much of the pulp out of your pumpkin that you can— it goes bad faster than the rest of the pumpkin. After carving, remove any extra pieces or pulp that are in the pumpkin. Pat the inside dry with a paper towel, then smear on a thin layer of petroleum jelly. The jelly forms a moisturizing shield that will keep your pumpkin fresh and deter bugs from having a feast.
3. Another way to keep your pumpkin looking good is to give it a dip. After the pumpkin has spent a week carved and outdoors, bring it in to have a long overnight soak. Simply place the pumpkin in a bucket full of cold water and leave until morning. In the morning, take out your pumpkin, dry the skin off and it will be ready for another week on your steps, porch, or wherever you like to show off your fancy pumpkin carving skills.
And don’t forget to show off your carvings this fall! Take a picture of your Jack O’ Lantern and upload it to Facebook or Instagram and tag us. We love to see what our creative Neighbors come up with.