Getting the most out of your pumpkin

The ins and outs of our favourite Halloween gourds

You can see them everywhere.

Some are big, some are small. Some have faces, some don’t. Some are perfectly round, some oddly shaped. Every time you see one of these orange things you remind yourself you have to get one too before time runs out.

Pumpkins sit ripe for the picking near the entrance of Pingle's Farm Market.
Pumpkins sit ripe for the picking near the entrance of Pingle’s Farm Market.

‘They’ are pumpkins. Every year at this time, their popularity skyrockets and people buy them in droves. And with reason – autumn has become synonymous with pumpkins, and Halloween just wouldn’t be the same without them.

But how much do you really know about our favourite Halloween decoration? Before you head out and purchase a pumpkin of your own, there are a few things you might want to know. It starts with how pumpkins are grown.

Walter Pingle owns and operates Pingle’s Farm Market with his wife Colleen. He says the pumpkin growing process begins in the spring.

“We plant pumpkins as seeds in the greenhouse,” he says. “We grow the pumpkin plant then transplant it into the field at the end of May or first week of June.”

“There would then be a pumpkin to harvest in the middle of September.”

The first thing to think about when heading out to get a pumpkin is where you want to buy it from. You can simply go to the closest grocery store where it will be easy to find a suitable pumpkin, or you can head to a pumpkin patch where you can pick through hundreds of pumpkins in their natural habitat.

“If you want to make it a family outing, it’s better to go to a farmer’s field,” Rick Jarvis says. “There are so many different ones to choose from.”

Jarvis is a produce manager at A&P who has worked in produce for 37 years. He says they always have pumpkins available at the grocery store this time of the year, and they sell over 1500 pumpkins each October.

Pingle says it is the experience that separates grocery store pumpkins from direct from the patch pumpkins.

“It’s actually a similar pumpkin,” he says. “But if you go to the farm, you get a field of 10,000 pumpkins, so you get to search through them all for the perfect pumpkin.”

“It’s a neat outdoor experience.”

So whether you decide to go to the grocery store or a farm to buy your pumpkin, there are a few things to think about when picking your pumpkins. Jarvis says the first thing is to decide exactly what kind of pumpkin you want.

“First I’ll ask [customers] what size they want to get and how many they want. Depending on how many kids they have, they’ll want one for each kid,” he says. “Of course for a child, they’re going to buy a medium size pumpkin for each one to carve and then often a large one for the family.”

If you’re going to be baking with your pumpkin, you might want to look for a pie pumpkin, which Jarvis says are grown for that purpose. He describes them as being a little firmer, smaller, and a little darker in colour than other pumpkins.

Pingle says you don’t have to use only pie pumpkins for baking, though they are the perfect size for making a pie. Similarly, baking isn’t the only use for pie pumpkins.

“For our business most go to the children who come to the farm with schools,” he says. “It’s the right size for children to carry.”

After you decide what kind of pumpkin you’re looking for, the search can begin. Not all pumpkins are made equal however. There are ways to determine if your favourite pumpkin is a quality pumpkin.

“The number one thing to look for is a good stem,” Pingle says. “It keeps better with a good stem. You also want a nice firm pumpkin.”

He adds that dark green stems are a good sign, but if they’re dried up and soft you probably want to pass on that pumpkin.

And don’t be put off by pumpkins that look a little greenish or have bumps on them. They’re perfectly fine, and in fact could turn into some great jack-o-lanterns.

“We have all shapes and sizes and different colours. We have green ones mixed in with the orange ones,” Jarvis say. “There’s nothing wrong with them. A lot of people want ones like that because it makes the face on them that much funnier.”

“We have a new variety called ‘Super Freak’,” Pingle says. “It’s a bumpy pumpkin. It’s really popular – it looks like its got warts. It’ll make a neat looking jack-o- lantern.”

After you take your pumpkin home with you, you’re going to want to make sure its perfection doesn’t waver until the moment you carve a grinning or frightening face into it. First of all, don’t cut into it too soon.

“Once you cut it, you only have a couple of days before it shrivels up and gets soft,” Pingle says.

Because of this, Jarvis recommends waiting until the night before Halloween to carve your pumpkins. Any earlier, and your scary jack-o-lantern could turn into a sad, saggy looking one.

In the time between buying the pumpkin and carving it, it seems it’s fairly easy to ensure your pumpkin lasts. Pingle says pumpkins don’t keep well after a frost, so make sure you keep them dry and around room temperature.

And while chances are you’re planning on turning those pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, don’t rule out other possibilities as well. There are plenty of other things to do with a pumpkin.

“We carve display pumpkins in the store, we put flower arrangements in them, and we also paint faces on them,” Jarvis says. He adds that people buy pumpkins for the seeds as well. After hollowing out your pumpkin, bake the seeds, salt them, and you’ve got a tasty snack.

Pingle also says to remember that pumpkins are a vegetable and can be eaten as such. He says the biggest misconception about pumpkins is that they aren’t a squash people can eat.

“People eat squash but don’t always think of pumpkin as something to put on the dinner table,” he says. “It’s just as good as other squash.”

So now that you’re armed with the right information to pick the perfect pumpkin and get the most out of it, it’s time to join the club and buy your own pumpkin.

With Halloween just around the corner, and cold winter weather on its way, there are just a couple weeks left to take advantage of the current abundance of pumpkins. Because after that, you won’t see them anywhere.