Pumpkin patches have sprung up across Columbia County and families are in search of the perfect pumpkin. But what constitutes the perfect pumpkin?
“In making a selection of pumpkins, I first consider where I will use the pumpkins,” said master gardener Mary Louise Hagler. “Will I put it on the dining room table, outside for jack-o-lanterns or to fill a vintage garden urn? Check all sides of the pumpkin to make sure it is damage free.”
In the United States, an estimated 99 percent of pumpkins are used for jack-o-lanterns. Selecting the right pumpkin for carving is fairly easy, according to Hagler.
The pumpkin shouldn’t have any soft spots. Those indicate that the pumpkin is rotting. Cracks and splits are also to be avoided. Pumpkins that have holes in them may indicate insect problems and should be left at the patch.
Hagler, who grows pumpkins at her country garden in Burke County, said most pumpkins will last through Thanksgiving if they are not carved.
“Once carved, though, they usually become victim to rotting,” she said.
It’s also best to know what design you’ll want to carve into the pumpkin when making a selection.
“Jack-o-lanterns or easy-to-carve pumpkins are all over,” said Hagler. “They are a deep orange, smooth and have very little unique variation.”
For those looking for pumpkins to cook with, one local expert has her own tips for picking the best.
“The size of the pumpkin you buy will depend on your needs,” said Betty English, family consumer sciences agent for Columbia and Richmond counties. “When picking your pumpkin, you want to make sure there is no damage to the rind. You want a good quality outer shell.’’
Pumpkins used for cooking should have a rich orange color and can be stored up to a month in a cool, dry and dark place. Once a pumpkin is cut, it should be stored in the refrigerator and used within three to five days.
“Pumpkin has great nutritional value,” said English. “It contains vitamins A and C, some B vitamins and trace amounts of iron and calcium.”