October is an amazing month for family activities! The weather is cool enough to play hard, but not so cold that you have to bundle up. And taking the family to a pumpkin patch to select "the Great Pumpkin" is always an awesome experience. Make it even more incredible with our 12 tips to picking the perfect pumpkin for carving or cooking.
Pumpkin Patch Tips: Finding The Perfect Carving Pumpkin
1. Design first, pick second. Decide on a carving design before you head to the pumpkin patch. The design of your carving can make a big difference in which type of pumpkin you pick. For instance, if you're going for a zombie or a ghost, you might want to pick a white Lumina pumpkin. If you're going ghoul, a funky shape could work. If you choose to wing it, let the pumpkin patch speak to you and design your carving accordingly. The large Jack O' Lantern pumpkin variety are often best for a generic pumpkin carving design.
2. Choose an apt design surface. If you want your pumpkin to have a clean look, check for an even, smooth surface. Likewise, a gnarly, knotted or splotchy pumpkin can work well for creepy Jack O' Lanterns.
3. Pick it up. If a pumpkin feels heavy for its size and is firm, it's perfect for carving. Dense pumpkins have thick walls. If you pick a pumpkin that's too thin, it may fall apart during carving. A pumpkin's thick inner walls can always be shaved down.
4. Check for bruises or soft spots. When at the pumpkin patch, feel all around the pumpkin to make sure the flesh doesn't give at all. Soft spots and bruises are early signs of rot.
5. Don't hack off the stem. If you're harvesting from a living pumpkin patch, cut the vine farther from the pumpkin to leave as much stem as possible. Keeping the stem will help your pumpkin last longer. Also, check for pumpkins that aren't quite ripe and perhaps still have a green stem as these will have a long way to go before they get mush. Also, give it a listen--ripe pumpkins make a hollow sound and have hard, brown stems.
6. Check out its flat spot. If you want a sturdy Jack O' Lantern, be sure your pumpkin has a flat spot or is level on the bottom. If your pumpkin grew in a funky manner, and the flat spot is on the side, you may want to leave it at the pumpkin patch. If you like it, think about how it will impact your design choice. Whatever you choose, make sure it can sit up on its own to be displayed without rolling over.
7. Don't use the stem as a handle. Once you pick your pumpkin, never use the stem to carry it. If the stem breaks off, you'll leave a hole in your pumpkin and that can lead to rot. Yuck.
Pumpkin Patch Tips: Finding the Perfect Cooking Pumpkin
8. Go small. Look around the pumpkin patch for a smaller variety known as Sugar Pie pumpkins. A the name suggests, they bake into delicious-tasting pie. You want your sugar pumpkin to be just 8-10 inches in diameter so the flesh will be smoother and less stringy than its larger pumpkin brethren.
9. Knock, knock, who's ripe? Knock on your pumpkin. If it makes a hollow sound, it's ripe. If not, choose another.
10. Check for a hard, brown stem. Ripe pumpkins' stems are hard and brown. If your pumpkin is still attached to its vine, that vine should be dried out.
11. Try new-to-you varieties. The round, orange Sugar Pie pumpkin you're used to isn't the only pumpkin in the pie game. Check your patch for other varieties like Cinderella, Blue Hubbard and Pink Banana pumpkins. All three are great for pies. For soups and stews test out varieties like Butternut, Red Kuri and Kabocha pumpkins.
Pumpkin Patch Tips: Where to Pick Your Pumpkin
12. Find a local pumpkin farm. Looking for a pumpkin patch in your area? Check this state-by-state pumpkin patch guide.
If you don't have access to a pumpkin farm, a grocery store will do. Pumpkins aren't on the Dirty Dozen, so non-organic is OK if you're on a budget or just carving. But organic is still best if you're making pie.
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