Q. How do I select a good carving pumpkin for my family?
A. There are four species of Curcurbita that are considered pumpkins; however, the intermediate and large Curcurbita pepo varieties are the ones used primarily for jack-o’-lanterns. Consider going to the pumpkin patch early. A well-chosen pumpkin will last at least until Halloween and, if you go early, you can have your choice of the best ones. If you are choosing a pumpkin directly from the field in which it was grown, try to go before the first frost; frosted pumpkins may develop a frost ring around the top of the fruit and will have a shorter shelf life. Look for pumpkins that have a well-rounded shape that is free of any fresh wounds or soft spots, which is an early indication of rotting. Make sure the fruit is firm and cannot be pierced easily. If the rind can be pierced easily, it’s too soft and, unfortunately, it will only get softer. Always pick up pumpkins by putting your hand underneath the fruit rather than by its stem. While it is tempting to use the stem, which is actually called the handle, handles can break, which can lead to rot. Also, make sure the handle is firm and not rubbery, as a rubbery handle indicates that disease organisms are making their way from the stem into the fruit. Once you find the perfect pumpkin, remember to be gentle when placing it in your cart or wagon. Happy autumn!