How to find the perfect pumpkin for your Halloween decor
By Diane Schlindwein
Creators News Service
If you are a Halloween enthusiast who gears up for autumn long before the first frost is on the pumpkin, chances are you're already thinking about how to decorate this year's jack-o'-lantern.
Blake Slemmer, a fan of everything pumpkin, knows that locating the right patch is pivotal to finding the perfect pumpkin. That's why, in 2002, Slemmer launched his Web site www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org. There, Slemmer lists names, addresses and directions to pumpkin patches, corn mazes and hayrides in all 50 states and in five other countries.
Once you've found the patch, he said, choosing a pumpkin is easy.
"You need only look for any pumpkin that is visually appealing, evenly a deep orange," he said. Pumpkins should be free from cuts, soft spots and bruises and the stem should be attached. "The flesh should feel hard and not give easily. Infections can invade easily and cause rot."
Not all pumpkins are perfectly round; they come in many shapes and sizes. "The shape is whatever appeals to you," Slemmer said. "If it grew on its side and has a flat spot, you can either make that the back [of your jack-o'-lantern] or use it as part of your design."
His Web site also offers detailed directions for carving and even suggests what tools to buy and where to purchase them.
Another Web site, www.Jack-O-Lantern.com, suggests choosing a pattern first and then picking a pumpkin that matches the pattern in shape and size. This Web site features a variety of designs and patterns that can be printed out free of charge.
Although he knows different people prefer different types of pumpkins, Slemmer said the Connecticut Field pumpkin is probably his favorite. "It is rather a standard -- due to its deep orange color and very round shape," he said.
Gayle Johnson, who co-owns the Apple Barn in Chatham, Ill., with her husband Dean, said people start thinking about decorating for autumn early in September. The Johnsons and their employees grow some of their own pumpkins in a large patch on their 24 acres, but they also truck in several loads every season.
"People are always ready for autumn," she said. "As soon as Labor Day weekend is over, they come in looking for pumpkins and mums." By early October, families are arriving at the orchard in throngs, usually picking out several pumpkins and hauling them to their cars in large green metal wagons.
Although Slemmer understands how folks are anxious for the season to arrive, he said picking a pumpkin that early might be a bit premature. "When to pick depends on the climate and your storage capabilities," he said. "Pumpkins like to grow in hot weather, but if they mature too far in advance to Halloween, they must be stored in cool (50-70 degrees Fahrenheit) dry conditions or they get soft and rot.
"If you live in a hot climate and want a local pumpkin, go early if you have a cool basement to store it until close to Halloween," he said. "Otherwise wait until 10 to 20 days before Halloween [Oct. 10-20] while there is still a good selection; that way you won't need to store it too long."
Not all pumpkins need to be carved. Many of the Johnsons' customers pick out a variety of pumpkins and gourds and arrange them for indoor and outdoor decorations that stay in place clear through Thanksgiving. Although jack-o'-lantern pumpkins are always a favorite, more autumn enthusiasts are choosing medium-sized white Lumina pumpkins and mini-pumpkins to add variety to a display.
Slemmer said he is also a big fan of consuming sugar, or baking, pumpkins for good health. "Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A and potassium. One-half cup of cooked pumpkin provides more than the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. Also, one cup of pumpkin contains only 81 calories," he said. "Of course, if you like roasted or baked pumpkin seeds you can save the seeds from any pumpkin."
Pumpkins for baking are smaller (about eight to 10 inches in diameter) and sweeter, Slemmer added. Just like when picking a pumpkin for carving, be sure to look for a firm fruit with no soft spots or any type of rot.
(c) Creators News Service