I love all things pumpkin. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin soup … if you can make it from a pumpkin, count me in. Heck, I’m even excited by the return of pumpkin lattes at Starbucks. By the time fall is through, I will have eaten more than my fill, carved a few Jack O’ Lanterns, and frozen enough puree to last for months. It’s possible I’m roasting a pumpkin right now. The season is upon us at last and pumpkins are in huge supply, but finding the best ones can be a challenge.
Picking a good pumpkin is an art form unto itself. Whether you’re carving them as holiday decorations or baking pumpkin pie, it all starts with finding the perfect pumpkin. Here are some tips to get you started.
Where to Shop for Pumpkins
I am lucky enough to live just down the street from a fairly substantial “you-pick-em” pumpkin patch. Short of growing your own pumpkins, buying from local farms or at farmer’s markets ensures pumpkins are fresh. Locally grown produce is also less likely to have suffered the bumps and bruises of those shipped to retail outlets.
The Shape of Things
Do you have a design in mind for the best ever Jack O’ Lantern or a truly creative carving? Having a carving plan in place before shopping will allow you to pick the right pumpkin for your work of art. You can even consider something a little more exotic. Pumpkins and gourds come in many colors and shapes. Find the one that’s just right for you, but make sure the bottom rests flat so you can showcase your handiwork without worrying that it’ll topple over.
Check for Blemishes
Bruises, cuts or signs of decay will grow over time, reducing the lifespan of the pumpkin. The pumpkin need not be perfectly round, but examine all surfaces for signs of damage or disease. A healthy pumpkin should have uniform color on all sides.
Give It a Thump
Ripened pumpkins will sound hollow. If you’re looking for something that’ll stick around until Halloween, a pumpkin that is denser and less ripe may last a little longer on the door stoop. Make sure the skin is hard by pressing on the skin with your thumb. If it gives freely, the pumpkin may be past its prime.
Check the Stem
Make sure the stem is intact and at least 2” in length. When the stem is lost, the soft spot left behind is prone to rot quickly.
If your pumpkin plans are culinary, look for pumpkins designated as pie or “sugar” pumpkins. A good pie pumpkin should be less than 10” in diameter and weigh no more than a few pounds. The behemoths may be fun to carve, but the flesh tends to be fibrous, watery and bland.
If you’re picking your own this year, check around to see what farms have to offer. Besides having a plethora of pumpkins, many farms offer other fall activities like corn mazes, hay rides or cider pressing. (If you love cider, check out my post on making your own hard cider at home.) Produce shopping has never been so much fun. Happy hunting!