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Pick a Perfect Pumpkin

Tips for Halloween Pumpkin Preparation

Their grinning faces are everywhere--from the toothy faces of a jack-o-lantern, to the happy smiles of someone eating pumpkin pie. 'Tis the season for pumpkin.

Dawn Bryan, author of the best-selling book The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving, and founder of Qualipedia™, offers the following tips including how to grow, pick, carve, eat, and store pumpkins:
 
Pick a Perfect Pumpkin:

  • A mature pumpkin will be difficult to scratch, bright orange, have a green stem and be fully hardened.
  • A shiny skin indicates that it was picked too soon; also check for scaring, soft spots and bruises.
  • For Eating: Look for a pumpkin which feels heavy for its size, as it will tend to have more dense, edible flesh. Popular "pie pumpkins" include the Small Sugar (also known as Sugar Pie, New England Pie, and Northern Pie), Winter Luxury, Cinderella, The Cheese, and Golden Cushaw.
  • For Painting: The best pumpkins for painting have smooth skin and shallow ribbing. The varieties Orange Smoothie, Cotton Candy, and Lumina are excellent for painting.
  • For Carving: Choose a pumpkin with structural strength, flat bottom, sturdy stem, and ability to last several days after being carved. It will sound hollow when tapped.

Pumpkins for Food:  

  • Eat only when ripe.
  • Fresh pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, micro-waved, or roasted and is frequently mashed or pureed before combining it with other ingredients.
  • Desserts include pumpkin pie, crème brulee, mousse, gingerbread, cupcakes, and cheesecakes.
  • Other favorites include the pumpkin martini, sweet and sour pumpkin, and pumpkin soup. 

Grow Pumpkins:

  • A seasonal, warm weather crop, pumpkins require warm soil that holds water well and at least one bee hive per acre for adequate pollination.

Carve Pumpkins:

  • Carving pumpkins can be accomplished with a variety of tools such as regular kitchen knives. However, in recent years inventors have patented tools made solely for this purpose; in addition to the cutting tools, some kits contain design templates and detailed instructions.
  • Choosing specialty pumpkins such as giant, miniature, unusual shapes, or white pumpkins (spooky) can add to the originality.  The most popular carvings are of the Jack-O-Lantern variety.
  • To carve a good Jack-O-Lantern, you need grease pencils for pre-marking; patterns -- your own or those you can download from the internet; gutting spoons for scooping; a long, thin-bladed boning knife to cut out the top and other large pieces; and a very sharp small paring knife for detail work.

Store and Preserve:

  • Store in a cool dry place (45 to 60 degrees F) for up to a month or refrigerate for up to three months.
  • Extra pumpkin for eating can be frozen, canned or dried for longer storage. Freezing is the easiest and results in the best quality product.
  • Carved pumpkin will begin to dry and shrivel as soon as it’s cut. To slow down the dehydration process and deter the onset of mold, coat all cut surfaces as well as the entire inside of the pumpkin with petroleum jelly. Coat the eyes, nose, and mouth or any other design you have carved out.

Health Benefits:

  • Pumpkins:  Fat-free, cholesterol free, a good source of vitamin C and an excellent source of vitamin A, the bright orange pumpkin shouts that it is loaded with antioxidants.
  • Pumpkin Seeds:  Excellent sources of fiber and rich in vitamin A and potassium, are also packed with protein, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamins E and B.
  • Pumpkin meat has also been used as a remedy for snakebites and a poultice treatment for burns.