Before anyone tries to start an argument about what type of plant Peter Piper picked, just hear me out on this...
Tell me if you've been here before. You randomly pick a pumpkin at the store one fine autumn day and carve it that very same night. After a day of sitting on the front steps, though, the back is mushy and already starting to collect some white fuzz...
"What an awesome waste of time!" said nobody ever.
It's tempting to grab any old pumpkin because it looks nice at first glance. That's great and I'm sure you have good intentions. But if you want to really let your pumpkin carving last as long as possible, you need to learn how to pick a pumpkin the proper way. Here's how this approach works.
When to Pick Your Pumpkin
First, many people wonder about the best time to pick a pumpkin from the garden, store, or farm. The best answer to that is as shortly before you carve as possible. Try to pick your own pumpkins from a farm or local pumpkin patch the day of carving, if possible. Store-bought pumpkins can work in a pinch, but aren't always the freshest or most cared-for. That being said, some specialty stores can guarantee the freshness, and some pumpkin patches may have left their pumpkins in the field too long to rot. Whichever method you choose for picking out a pumpkin, focus on the freshness.
Second, you need to really examine it before you commit to buying a pumpkin. Turn it around and over, and inspect every square inch. Wipe the dirt off of the rind and feel how firm the flesh is. If you find any soft spots or even really discolored patches, move on to the next one. These spots are already, in essence, rotten. They will really shorten the lifespan of your creation, and cause more frustration than anything. Picking a perfect pumpkin can’t happen without getting your hands dirty. I guess you could wear gloves, but it’s not as fun.
Handle With Care
Next, pay attention to the stem. You're looking for a fresh, green, and firm stem that's solidly attached to the pumpkin. This indicates it was freshly cut. A shriveled brown stem is pretty much useless, and a lack of a stem is even worse. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people carry their pumpkins by the stem. Later, I watch in horror as the stem detaches, and their perfect pumpkin shatters on the ground. Please don't do this.
A healthy green stem can still provide limited nutrients to the pumpkin flesh, which will also help it last as long as possible. But as soon as it's gone, your pumpkin is on its own. Your final product will look unbalanced without a top anyway, so just skip these ones.
What Type of Pumpkin
If you plan on sculpting a face into your pumpkin instead of using traditional carving methods, you'll need a pumpkin with very thick walls. The thicker the flesh, the more "canvas" you have to work with and the more depth you can achieve in the face. In order to pick a pumpkin like this, you'll need to lift it and see how heavy it is. Try to find pumpkins that seem very heavy for their size. This is almost a guaranteed way to ensure you make a good choice.
If you plan on creating Jack o' lanterns or similar pumpkin carving patterns, you want the opposite type of pumpkin. Thin walls will make sawing through the rind much easier, and it won't be as difficult to scoop out.
There are hundreds of varieties of pumpkins for sale, which means your imagination is the only thing slowing you down. They come in all different sizes, shapes, colors, and textures, so get creative.
As you can see, it's not especially hard to pick the perfect pumpkin for your Halloween display. But many people don't think about the details. If you're serious about making your pumpkin creation last as long as possible, try these steps out. You'll be amazed.
After picking out a pumpkin, there are additional steps you can take to prolong its life even further, including during storage and after it has been carved. I'll cover that in a future post.
Have you ever picked a pumpkin and had it turn to mush before you could really appreciate it? I'm here to help!