Fall is just around the corner which means it’s almost time to visit your favorite pumpkin patch. Whether you plan to bake a pie or carve a jack-o’-lantern, there is a right and a wrong way to pick the perfect pumpkin. Read on our tips for how to pick a pumpkin, carve a jack-o’-lantern and roast pumpkin seeds.
When Is Pumpkin Season?
Halloween may not be traditionally celebrated in Hungary, but pumpkin is still the star of many autumn celebrations. Several regions hold fall festivals dedicated to this seasonal staple, inviting visitors to sample sweet and savory pumpkin dishes (often topped with a pinch of paprika). Some, like the Őrség region’s annual pumpkin festival, feature pumpkin carving activities and even a jack-o’-lantern parade.
In Hungary and North America, the pumpkin harvest typically falls between September and October. Pumpkins are a warm-season plant that need from 90 to 120 frost-free days to ripen. They are typically ready to harvest when their vines start to dry up, the fruit turns bright orange and the rinds harden. As a general rule, be sure to pick a pumpkin before the first frost or they will soften and begin to decay.
How To Pick A Pumpkin
A carefully chosen pumpkin will last longer and – depending on the type you choose – carve more easily or taste better. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when it’s time to pick a pumpkin.
Cooking Vs. Carving
Pumpkins generally fall into two categories: Small “sugar” pumpkins which are for cooking and large decorative pumpkins for carving. Cooking pumpkins have denser flesh, higher sugar content and usually weigh between four to eight pounds. Carving pumpkins tend to be thinner and have grainier and stringier flesh, making them easier to carve but less appetizing. An easy way to tell the difference: Most cooking varieties have names like “New England Pie Pumpkin” or “Sugar Pie”. The Howden pumpkin is the most common carving varietal and is what you typically envision when you think of a jack-o’-lantern: Large, round and bright orange, with a handle-like stem.
Choose Your Design
We advise choosing your jack-o’-lantern design before shopping for a pumpkin. What shape would be best? If you’re using a stencil, it’s best to pick a round or oval pumpkin with fewer ribs – this will give you a smooth canvas for carving. For something truly terrifying, an odd-shaped, bumpy pumpkin may be the way to go. Are you carving several pumpkins? Try choosing a mix of different shapes and sizes so they can be grouped together on your front porch.
Pick Straight From The Vine
We recommend visiting a local pumpkin patch to source your pumpkin. It’s always best to pick a pumpkin straight from the vine: You’ll have a better idea of its freshness and have a wider variety of shapes and sizes to choose from. Plus, we always advise an organic, farm-to-table option for your fruits and vegetables (remember, you’re going to want to roast the seeds after carving!).
Pay Attention To Color
As a rule of thumb, the darker the color, the better the pumpkin. Ripe pumpkins have smooth, uniformly colored skin and a vibrant orange color. Keep in mind that your pumpkin will stop changing color once it has been picked: Don’t choose a pale shade in the hopes that it will ripen once it’s off the vine. Also, pay attention to the top of the pumpkin, specifically around the stem. If the color is dull in that area, the pumpkin already has frost damage.
Knock On The Shell
Another way to tell if a pumpkin is ripe for picking is to knock on its shell. Just like watermelons, ripe pumpkins will produce a deep, hollow sound when you tap them. The louder the sound, the riper the pumpkin. Simply pick up the pumpkin (from underneath – never the stem) and knock on its side with your knuckles. If you hear a hollow sound, the pumpkin is ready to be picked.
Avoid Soft Spots & Bruises
Like most fruits (yes, pumpkin is a fruit!), soft spots and bruises are a no-go. These are a sure sign that a pumpkin has started to spoil and won’t have a long shelf (or shall we say, porch) life. Gently feel around the pumpkin with your hands and press across the skin to test for soft spots. This also holds for the stem: A soft stem is a sign of an overripe pumpkin.
Make Sure It’s Level
If you’ve chosen a carving pumpkin it’s important to make sure it will sit upright. You don’t want to create a jack-o’-lantern masterpiece only to have it topple off your front porch. Test how the pumpkin sits on solid ground to ensure it doesn’t tilt or roll over.
Keep The Stem Intact
When it’s time to pick your pumpkin, be sure to leave as much of the stem as possible. Several inches of stem will slow down the rotting process, ensuring that your pumpkin stays fresh for longer. Once you’ve freed your pumpkin, don’t pick it up by its stem. While it may appear to be the perfect handle, it can easily snap and leave your pumpkin with an open wound that’s prone to rot.
Pumpkin Carving Steps
Now that you’ve picked a pumpkin and brought it home, it’s time to get creative. Will your pumpkin be spooky or silly? Minimalist or intricate? No matter what design you choose for your jack-o’-lantern, follow these pumpkin carving steps:
- Cut a lid: Carve a circle around the stem, angling your knife inward so the lid doesn’t fall inside the pumpkin.
- Scrape out the seeds and pulp.
- Draw your design directly on the pumpkin or tape your stencil to its front.
- Poke small holes in the rind to outline your design.
- With a sharp knife or cutting saw, carve along the dotted lines.
- To light your jack-o’-lantern, let a candle burn for a few moments with the lid on. Then, create a chimney by carving a hole where the candle has blackened the lid.
What To Do With Jack-O’-Lantern Scraps
What to do with your pumpkin scraps? First, separate the seeds from the pulp and set them aside for roasting (more on this below). The pulp – and your post-Halloween pumpkin – can be composted or donated to local farmers for feed. If you don’t compost your jack-o’-lantern, consider burying it in your garden. As it decomposes, it will enrich the soil with valuable nutrients that will benefit your fruits and veggies come spring.
Easy Pumpkin Seed Recipe
Now for (in our humble opinion) the best part of the pumpkin carving process: roasting your pumpkin seeds. Follow this recipe (adapted from Taste Of Home) for perfectly roasted pumpkin seeds.
- 2 cups fresh pumpkin seeds
- 3 tbsp organic cooking oil of your choice
- 1 tsp salt and other seasonings
- Olive oil
- Garlic powder
- Black pepper
- Olive oil
- Brown sugar
- Tip: Add a dash of paprika for a dose of spice!
- Olive oil
- Ground ginger
- Nutmeg (just a pinch)
- Preheat oven to 250°
- Lightly grease a large sheet pan with oil
- Separate the pulp from the pumpkin seeds (just use your fingertips to pull the seeds free). To remove remaining pumpkin fiber, simply rinse the seeds in a colander under running water.
- Pat seeds dry with a towel.
- Combine seeds with seasoning: Combine the seasonings with oil in a small bowl, then drizzle the mix over the dry seeds in a medium-sized bowl.
- Spread seeds evenly in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes, being sure to toss and stir seeds occasionally.
- Remove and let cool.
Pumpkins carry plenty of benefits along with the fun of carving them and roasting their seeds. Pumpkin pulp and seeds contain a variety of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). For the skin, this ingredient boosts moisture levels, brightens skin tone and provides antioxidant benefits that minimize the visible signs of aging. You can find it in several Eminence Organics products, including the luxurious Pumpkin Latte Hydration Masque.
What is your favorite way to enjoy pumpkin? Share it with us in the comments below!