19 Oct 2005
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
If you are in the market for a pumpkin this week you should have no trouble finding one among the many farms, festivals, and market stands in the area. Selecting a pumpkin is often a personal thing but you may have a certain purpose in mind for your choice. The most popular use for pumpkins this week is probably for carving and/or decoration as jack-o-lanterns. If you go into your shopping experience knowing what your carving or painting design will look like you can pick an appropriate shape and size. When selecting a pumpkin you can pretend you are shopping for watermelons. Pumpkins are members of the gourd family that also includes watermelons, cucumbers, muskmelon, squashes, and gourds. Tapping on the side will tell you - that hollow sound may equal a rotten inside.
Depending on the state of your pumpkin when purchased and the way you treat it at home, a carved pumpkin can last anywhere from one day to one week in reasonable shape. You might prevent early shrinkage by coating it with an anti-desiccant or temporarily treat a shriveling pumpkin by soaking it overnight in water. Of course, painting your pumpkin rather than carving will avoid these problems.
If you were planning to eat your pumpkin instead of putting it up for display you are looking at this from a different angle. When selecting a pumpkin for cooking, the best selection is a "pie pumpkin" or "sweet pumpkin." These are smaller than the large jack-o-lantern pumpkins and the flesh is sweeter and less watery. However, you can substitute the jack-o-lantern variety with fairly good results. Pumpkins show chilling damage when the temperature drops below about 40 F and they will not tolerate frost or freezing whatsoever. So if you plan to eat that uncarved Halloween pumpkin on the first of November, you may have to protect it somehow from the cold nights.
Look for a pie pumpkin with 1 to 2 inches of stem left. If the stem is cut down too low the pumpkin will decay quickly or may be decaying at the time of purchase. Avoid pumpkins with blemishes and soft spots. It should be heavy, bright orange in color, and shape is unimportant. A lopsided pumpkin is not necessarily a bad pumpkin. Figure one pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin for each cup finished pumpkin puree. Pumpkins contain vitamins A and C, some B vitamins, also iron and calcium. Pumpkins are especially good sources of vitamin A and have about 40 calories per cup serving.
To prepare your pumpkin, begin by spreading newspaper over your work surface and washing the rind with cold water. Remove the stem with a sharp knife. You can cook the pumpkin in several ways, boiling/steaming, in the oven, or in the microwave. I prefer the oven method. If you do too, cut the pumpkin in half, scraping away stringy mass and seeds. Rinse under cold water. Place pumpkin, cut side down, on a large cookie sheet. Bake at 350F for one hour or until fork tender
When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, remove the peel using a small sharp knife and your fingers. Put the peeled pumpkin in a food processor and puree or use a food mill, ricer, strainer or potato masher to form a puree. Pumpkin puree freezes well. To freeze, measure cooled puree into one-cup portions, place in freezer containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace or pack into zip bags. Label, date and freeze at 0F for up to one year. Use this puree in recipes or substitute in the same amount in any recipe calling for solid pack canned pumpkin.
Instead of throwing away the seeds, try them as a snack. Wash the seeds well. Spread them in a single layer on cookie sheet to dry. Then, roast them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 30 minutes or until they are dry. Dot with butter and brown for 5 to 10 minutes 400 degrees. Stir often until toasted. Sprinkle with salt, cool and serve.
Now that you have some pumpkin prepared you might also try these pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.
1 cup pumpkin
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 tsp. milk
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg in a large bowl. Stir well. Mix in flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda mixture. Mix well. Stir in chocolate chips, chopped nuts, and vanilla. Mix well. Drop by spoon on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes.
Contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office and speak with an Extension Agent or Master Gardener volunteer for more advice and information on lawn and landscape topics. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.