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Picking The Perfect Pumpkin

Washington Grown Gardener, Karla - My favorite time of year is here! I love the feel of crisp, sunny mornings in the fall and the emergence of all things pumpkin. Nothing eases me into the day like a hot sugar free pumpkin vanilla chai in the morning!

Pumpkins are incredibly diverse – from the tiny Jack Be Littles to the massive Atlantic Giants that can gain over a pound an hour at their peak! My favorite pumpkin in my garden this year was a new one for me: red warty thing, topping out at 19 pounds!

Amidst all this variety, how do you select the right pumpkin for you? Are you carving a jack-o-lantern? Making pie? Stuffing it or using it as a soup bowl? Setting out decorations to last until Thanksgiving? There is a pumpkin for every purpose.

Jack-o-lanterns are usually made from the classic Connecticut Field pumpkin. While technically edible, it should not be your choice for cooking. Another fun variety for carving or even drawing on or painting is Casper – a white pumpkin.

Winter luxury is thought by some to be the best pumpkin for pie making. It is smaller than pumpkins grown for jack-o-lanterns, but has a better texture and more sugar content. If you’re looking in the store for a pumpkin to make pie or other cooking, it may not give the variety. Look for “sugar” pumpkins for the best flavor.

All kinds of pumpkins and other gourds used in decoration. One of the favorites is Jack Be Little – a tiny pumpkin that can last for months – or even over a year – on your shelf. Believe it or not, these little guys make perfect personal-size stuffed pumpkins as well!

Regardless of what type, pumpkins are relatively easy to grow. To tell when a pumpkin is ready to harvest, there are a few signs, but one of the surest is the “thumbnail” test. Your pumpkin is ready when it resists being pierced by your thumbnail. Often, the stem starts changing color or leaves begin to die back as well, but not always.

The pumpkin may not have completely changed color, but will likely finish as the pumpkin “cures.” After harvesting, place the pumpkin in a dry, well-ventilated area for 2 – 3 weeks. This allows the pumpkin to harden its skin and will extend its storage life.

If you are as enamored by pumpkins and other squash as I am, you can learn more about these diverse plants in Amy Goldman’s book The Compleat Squash. Put it on your winter reading list and you will certainly have new varieties you’ll want to try next spring!

Garden on!

Follow more of Karla’s gardening on her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/karlaskitchengarden