How Do I Choose Pumpkins?
Big pumpkins are for carving. Small pumpkins--three pounds or smaller--are for cooking. Make sure you don't see any soft spots on the pumpkin, which are an indication that the pumpkin is going bad.
How to Store Pumpkins
Just put them somewhere relatively cool and dry. Pumpkins will keep up to a month.
How to Cut Pumpkins
Very carefully. Pumpkins are difficult to cut because they are large and their skin is so tough. So use a very sharp, large knife to cut the pumpkin in half, or cut out wedges. Scoop out seeds and fibers with a spoon or ice cream scoop. Then cut the pumpkin into equal-sized sections and peel off the skin.
Good Choices for Cooking
The pumpkins you raise for Halloween decor are often too watery and tasteless for cooking. Try one of these varieties instead:
- Small Sugar
- New England pie pumpkins
- Baby Pam or Lumina (these are white)
- Well-seasoned chefs rely on the crook-necked pumpkin, which looks like a neck cushion and has bright orange, nearly string-less flesh that makes a perfect puree for baking.
Simply peel it, remove the seeds, cut into three- or four-inch pieces, and boil in a small amount of water for about 30 minutes. Using a food mill or food processor, puree the softened pumpkin until it's the consistency of applesauce.
Think about the mini pumpkins, too. They're not all for cooking, but hollow them out and you have a cute serving dish for pumpkin custard or soup!
How to Grow and Harvest Pumpkins
Growing large pumpkins like the ones at the supermarket will require more space than most home gardeners have (up to 300 square feet). If you don't mind smaller pumpkins, grow them in a "pumpkin hill"--an 18-inch mound of dirt that gets full sun. Getting your plants to yield right at Halloween is tricky--talk to the friendly folks at your local garden center about it.
Harvest pumpkins when they are a deep, solid color (orange for most varieties) and the rind is hard.
- Pumpkins are usually mature and ready for picking in late September or early October, as long as you don’t have an early frost.
- When you're ready to harvest, cut the vine with pruning shears or a sharp knife, leaving a three- to four-inch stem. (Pumpkins with handles keep longer.)
- Avoid cutting or bruising the pumpkins when handling them. Injured fruits don’t stay fresh long.
If you're not using them right away, store in a cool (50- to 55-degree), dry location.
Contact your local garden center or horticulture extension office to find out what grows best in your own backyard.