Pumpkins for carving are strictly for show. If you’re going to be using your pumpkins for cooking and baking, you want the sweetest pumpkins you can find. A smooth, creamy texture is important too. And having an outer shell on your pumpkin that doesn’t require a power tool to remove is a nice plus.
The choice between carving pumpkins and cooking pumpkins is actually very practical. When choosing a carving pumpkin, you are looking for a nice shape and a pumpkin that will last several days, once carved.
The choice of a cooking pumpkin is all about taste and texture. Smaller varieties are preferred for cooking and some help you find them with common names like ‘Small Sugar Pumpkin’ or ‘New England Pie Pumpkin’. Sometimes you will see a sign saying, “Baking pumpkins”.
Whatever type of pumpkin you are looking for, here are some basic guidelines to help you.
- First, your pumpkin must be fully mature when it is picked. It is important that the shell is hard enough for storage until you carve or bake it.
- Never pick up or carry a pumpkin by its stem. It is not a handle. The stem can break off very easily, leaving the pumpkin with an open wound that invites infection and rot.
- Check the pumpkin well for soft spots and dark bruises. Once a pumpkin starts to rot, it goes downhill quickly. The smallest nick is enough to allow an infection inside. Don’t forget to look at the bottom of the pumpkin, where it’s been resting on the cold, damp ground.
Tips for Choosing and Carving Pumpkins
• You can carve any type of pumpkin, gourd or squash. A good carving pumpkin should be firm and healthy. Ideally, you want one with a shell that is hard enough to protect it, but still allows you to get a knife through it. Pumpkins with outer shells that feel as hard as a piece of wood are very difficult (and dangerous) to cut into.
• Tap the pumpkin gently and listen for a slightly hollow sound. Lifting the pumpkin will also give you a good idea of how dense it is. Heavier pumpkins have thicker walls. Thick walls block the candle light and carving details will be lost. If worse comes to worse, you can scoop out the walls from the inside.
• Shape is up to your own taste, but test to see if your pumpkin has a good, balanced base to sit on, so it won’t roll over when you try to display it. The tall, oblong-shaped varieties tend to be stringier inside, making it difficult to make precise cuts.
• Do not discount the smaller pumpkins entirely. They are great for kids to paint and to use as decorations.
• Look for different colors. White pumpkins, such as ‘Lumina’ give a spooky ghost-like look to your Jack-O’-Lantern. They are also easier to paint than orange pumpkins. They make wonderful cooking pumpkins as well.
Keeping a Carved Pumpkin Fresh Looking
Fact – Your jack-o’-lantern will begin to dry and shrivel as soon as you cut and expose it to air. If you need to carve your pumpkin a few days before you will be displaying it, use these tips to keep it fresh longer:
√ Keep it in a cool spot, out of direct sunlight.
√ Spray it with an anti-transparent, like ‘Wilt-Pruf’.
√ Drape the entire pumpkin with a damp towel.
√ Protect it from animals that might be tempted to take a bite.
√ Do not leave it outdoors if there is a threat of frost.
All pumpkins have seeds! Don’t throw them away. Rinse and spread them on paper towels to dry, then salt and roast them for a nutritious snack everyone will love.
2 cups pumpkin seeds
2 Tbs. Canola or Sunflower oil
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
Preparation: Toss clean, dry pumpkin seeds with oil and salt; spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 250° oven for about 1 hour (stirring occasionally), until the pumpkin seeds are dry.