You have a couple of choices when you feel like picking pumpkins. You can pick them right out of the huge box on a pallet at the grocery store or you can do the little fake farm around your neighborhood that turns into a Christmas tree farm the day after Thanksgiving (amazing how that happens) or you can take a trek out to a pumpkin patch and pick 'em like they did in the good ole days.
Anyway you carve it, it will still be spooky for Halloween! Of course there are some tricks and tips to get the absolutely best pumpkin wherever you go. Be advised some pumpkins are better for cooking, some for carving and some for painting. Believe it or not, some have better seeds. Hold your gourds -- we will explain.
Choosing the perfect Jack O'Lantern
Jack O'Lantern pumpkins have thick walls and a fibrous flesh that can stand up to being carved. They have hollow cavities perfect for holding candles. They were bred to be sculpted.
What to look for:
- You want it firm and heavy for its size.
- The coloring should be consistent throughout.
- Turn it over on the bottom -- if it flexes or gives it's not fresh.
- Look for mold or wrinkle cuts, soft spots that would mean it will spoil early.
- Find a pumpkin that has a good solid stem.
- A green stem means a freshly harvested pumpkin.
- Put the pumpkin on a flat surface to make sure it sits well after being carved.
Finding the right painting pumpkin
Orange Smoothie, Cotton Candy and Lumina are all good varieties for painting pumpkins. They come equipped with smooth skin and shallow ribbing. These are good-eating pumpkins as well so use a non-toxic paint so you can eat them when you and your little Van Gogh are done painting.
The best pumpkin pie
We're talking about a real pumpkin pie, not one from a can. For this you want a Cinderella pumpkin.
Cinderella pumpkins are the real deal -- supposedly the ones the Pilgrims used. Their name came from Cinderella's carriage that her fairy Godmother created from a pumpkin for the magical ride to the ball.
Their flavor is good for pie or winter squash. Sugar pies are the modern baking pumpkin. If you want to bake pies and want a pumpkin instead of a squash this is your baby.
The best pumpkin seeds
You can eat the seeds from any variety of pumpkin. Some are bigger and some are smaller. Some of them have very thick hulls. The best for roasted pumpkin seeds come from the Kakai pumpkin -- these seeds are completely hullless. They are very attractive with their bright orange and green stripes.
Now that you have picked your pumpkin, you probably are wondering how long it will last. Steve Reiners, a horticulturist at Cornell University, says it depends on the state of the pumpkin and the weather.
"If the pumpkin was healthy when picked and diseases were controlled in the field, the pumpkin can last 8 to 12 weeks." He adds that Jack O'Lanterns don't fare as well: They last 5 to 10 days.
The best storage temperature for pumpkins ranges between 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, he says. But cold weather can cut into a pumpkin's lifespan. A light frost might cause a little discoloration; the pumpkin won't fare well if temperatures drop below freezing.
If all else fails you can always go to a craft store and get one of those plastic pumpkins complete with a light bulb. The problem with that is, you miss all the fun!