published Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

5 tips for picking pumpkins for carving, cooking

  • photo
    Madeline Smott, 2, chooses a pumpkin with a green stem, a sign of freshness. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette photo

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FIVE TIPS

1) Look for firm, orange pumpkins with slightly green stems.

2) Etch, carve or place pumpkins in arrangements for fall decor.

3) Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes. Don't eschew one because it seems misshapen.

4) Explore recipes for pumpkins and other edible gourds such as winter and butternut squash.

5) For an especially interesting decoration method, try scarring a pumpkin by etching it still green on the vine.

Every year, Charlie Brown's friend Linus writes a letter to the Great Pumpkin.

For those who will be satisfied with the regular garden variety, pumpkins are a versatile autumnal plant that can be used for decoration or consumption.

A trip to the pumpkin patch is an annual celebration of fall for some families.

A pumpkin that has been scarred or etched will glow with a diffused light when a candle is placed inside. It will also last longer than if cut open.

Andrew Dixon, co-owner of Granddaddy's Pumpkin Patch in Estill Springs, Tenn., said there are certain secrets to picking a good pumpkin.

"Make sure the pumpkin is good, firm and has good color," he said. "Make sure it doesn't have any bad spots and isn't squishy."

He said to look for a nice orange color, or even one that is slightly green, allowing it to ripen a bit more off the vine. A green stem indicates a healthy pumpkin.

Once the pumpkin is picked, there are several options of what to do with it. Some choose to carve traditional jack-o'-lanterns, while others might paint pumpkins.

Scarring, or etching, the pumpkin is a more recent trend in gourd decor. According to Martha Stewart Living magazine, a wide-blade cutter or razor is used to pare away the skin of the pumpkin. A candle is then placed inside, causing a diffused light to glow through. This method allows the pumpkins to last longer than traditional carving.

Dixon said another creative way to etch a pumpkin is to do so while the plant is still green on the vine.

"As it's growing," he said, "it'll heal over and you'll have a raised spot."

Despite the myriad ways a blade can be artistically applied to a pumpkin, Dixon said his favorite way to use pumpkin in decor is to mix them with other gourds, which are often found in varying shades of yellow, orange, green and even white.

Pumpkins often find their place on the table as decor, but they also star in dishes as well. Pumpkins find a place in breads, cakes, muffins, soup, chili

and ravioli, just to name a few. And, of course, there are pies. Because what is Thanksgiving without a slice of pumpkin pie?

But while Dixon said he enjoys the traditional pumpkin pie, he said the secret to an especially flavorful one might be to not actually use pumpkin at all, but rather a brother or sister thereof.

"Pumpkins don't have the flavor of butternut or winter squashes," he said.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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