Visiting the pumpkin patch with the family in the fall is a time-honored tradition. Whether you live in the country and have easy access to pumpkin farms, or you and your family plan a pumpkin picking road trip every year, there are a few things you should keep in mind when selecting the perfect gourd. Your plans for the pumpkin, whether for decorating or baking, will have a major influence on the variety and characteristics of your pumpkin. Here’s a simple guide to picking out the perfect pumpkin during your fall family road trip.
- Shape and size: Carving pumpkins are the most common type of pumpkin, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The one you choose will depend on the design you decide to carve into the pumpkin. A jack-o-lantern will look great on just about any pumpkin, while more intricate stencil designs may require a larger, smoother, more regularly shaped gourd. It’s also a good idea to find a pumpkin with a relatively flat bottom so it can easily rest upright.
- Ripeness: Pumpkins stay in an ideal ripe state for a long time, so finding a properly ripe pumpkin shouldn’t be difficult. Try to stay away from pumpkins that have a lot of green coloring or, on the other end of the ripeness spectrum, are beginning to get soft. Bruising or softness can mean that the pumpkin will begin to rot soon, which could reduce the lifespan of your carved masterpiece.
Cooking and baking pumpkins
- Taste and texture: While carving pumpkins are great for Halloween decorations, they don’t taste very good. If you’re making pumpkin pie, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin soup or pumpkin bread, you’ll want a gourd that is specifically grown to be eaten. Certain varieties are known for their sweet taste and smooth texture. Check out Cinderella Pumpkins, Pink Bananas, Sugar Pies, Blue Hubbards or Red Kuris for your next fall-inspired dish.
- Hardness: Ripe pumpkins develop a hard exterior skin when ripe. This shell allows them to keep for up to several months in a cool pantry, so make sure your pumpkin is fully ripe and solid before picking. If you can break the skin with a fingernail, it’s probably not ready yet.
Why drive to the grocery store for a pumpkin when you can plan a family road trip to a farm and pick one yourself? Look for patches in rural areas where you live, and use this guide to help you find the perfect pumpkin. Make a day out of it—check out pumpkin farms that may be farther away but offer a larger variety of pumpkins for carving and baking.