Pumpkins are in season September through November. But mature pumpkins should be harvested before the first hard freeze. Check your local extension for the average first hard freeze date and mark your calendar. A light frost might harm the vines, but should not damage the fruit.
Pick & Preserve
1. The skin will be hard and shell-like. You should be able to press your fingernail into the skin without puncturing the fruit.
2. The pumpkin should sound hollow inside when you gently thump on it.
3. Check for cracks in the stem: another sign that the pumpkin is ready to be picked.
4. Be sure the pumpkin has reached its desired color. Once the pumpkin is picked, the color will stop developing.
5. Use sharp scissors or a blade to the cut the fruit from the vine. Try to leave a long handle, but avoid carrying the pumpkin by the stem as it may not support the weight of the fruit. Alternatively, if you do not wish to cut the fruit, you can let the vine die back and pick them at your leisure (as long as it’s before the first hard freeze).
6. To help harden the skin and heal any scuffs or scratches, cure the pumpkin(s) for 10 days at 80 to 85 F, and a humidity of around 80 percent.
7. Store the pumpkin(s) in a cool (about 50 F), dry place, away from any ripening fruits like apples or pears. Allow each pumpkin to have some “breathing” room. The circulation helps keep the pumpkin dry.
It’s not necessary to cure pumpkins if you plan to use them right away. Properly cured and stored pumpkins, however, can last several months. But be sure to periodically check the fruit and remove the ones that show signs of decay.
To Eat or to Carve?
All pumpkins are edible; however, the textures and sweetness vary from species to species.
Common pumpkin varieties include Connecticut field pumpkins (great for Halloween carving), Howden pumpkins, and Howden Biggie pumpkins—all members of the species Cucurbita pepo.
Members of the species Cucurbita moschata are usually a tan color and oblong shape and are used mostly for commercial canning.
For sweeter recipes, such as pumpkin pie, varieties like Cinderella and Sugar Pie are recommended. The skin is substantially thinner than a jack-o’-lantern, and the flesh is much sweeter.
Instead of canned pumpkin, try using fresh pumpkin puree in your favorite pumpkin recipes. For the best results, slice and seed a fresh pumpkin and roast in an 325 F-oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender. When cool, remove skin and mash, blend, or puree the flesh.
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