Pumpkins of all sizes and varieties are appearing at the market and other venues. There’s a lot of variety in pumpkins and it pays to consider what you’ll be using your pumpkin for–cooking, carving, or decorating–when you go shopping for one. When choosing a carving or decorating pumpkin, you’re looking for a nice shape and a pumpkin that will last several days. The choice for a cooking or baking pumpkin is all about taste and texture.
For cooking and baking, you’ll want to use a pumpkin that has a smooth, dense grain or texture and a very mild, delicate and sweet flavor. Often time they are generically labeled “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins.” Other pumpkins or squash that work equally as well are the Long Island Cheese Pumpkins which look like a wheel of cheese, the white ‘Luminia’, or butternut squash. “Pie pumpkins” are smaller in size, about 5-8 inches in diameter and weigh between three and eight pounds. “One pound of fresh pumpkin yields about 4 cups raw peeled and cubed, or 1 cup cooked when mashed or pureed pumpkin. A 5 pound fresh pumpkin will make 4-4.5 cups of cooked puree or mashed pulp. If you want a thicker puree, place it in a colander or cheesecloth for a while to drain out excess water. If a recipe calls for a 15-ounce can of pumpkin, you can replace it with 1.75 cups mashed fresh pumpkin. In general, plan on purchasing 1/3 to 1/2 pound of fresh pumpkin per serving as a side dish. Much of the weight will be discarded in the peel and seeds.” (source: https://www.howmuchisin.com/produce_converters/pumpkin) Check for nicks, bruises or soft spots before purchasing. If kept in a cool, dry location, they will keep well for a couple of months. As the pumpkin ages, the skin will dull, but as long as the skin is unblemished and free of mold, the flesh inside will still be sweet and edible; in fact, over time, the flesh becomes even sweeter. Once cut, fresh pumpkin/squash should be wrapped tightly, refrigerated, and used within five days. Cooked pumpkin/squash freezes very well for later use.
You can carve or decorate with any type of pumpkin, squash, or gourd. However, larger pumpkins used for carving or decorating are generally known as field pumpkins and besides being larger in size, also have a watery, stringy flesh. A good carving pumpkin should be firm, healthy, feel heavy when picked up, and sound slightly hollow when tapped gently. Ideally, the shell should be hard enough to protect it, but still allow a knife through. Pumpkins with outer shells that feel as hard as a piece of wood are very difficult and dangerous to slice or carve. The heavier the pumpkin, the thicker the walls. Thick walls may block the light source and carving details may be lost. If the pumpkin you choose has thicker walls than desired, one can shave the walls from the inside. Test to see if the pumpkin has a good base to sit on so that it won’t roll over. Avoid carrying the pumpkin by its stem. The stem is not a handle and if it breaks, you may loose part of your design or create a wound that invites rot.
Once a pumpkin has been opened or carved, it will start to dry and shrivel as soon as exposed to air. Carved pumpkins will keep nicely for a few days in the refrigerator; this is especially helpful if carving needs to take place a few days ahead of the display time. If you want to carve and display but want the display to last longer than one day, place the carved pumpkin in a cool spot out of direct sunlight. Another tip is to spray it with “Wilt-Pruf” plant protector. For display pumpkins whether carved or solely for decoration, it is important that they not be left outdoors if there is a threat of frost.
Enjoy pumpkin season!