Pumpkin Pleasure

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Whether you use them for carving or cooking, pumpkins are fall pleasers, and plentiful in NC. North Carolina pumpkin acreage has been estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 acres!

Pumpkins are a nutritional powerhouse! The bright orange color of pumpkin means that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids that we convert into vitamin – important to our overall health.

Research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protect against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers defense against other diseases as well as some deteriorating aspects of aging.

Larger pumpkins are sought for carving fun, but when selecting a pumpkin for cooking, the best selection is a “pie pumpkin” or “sweet pumpkin.” These are smaller than the large jack-o-lantern (carving) pumpkins and the flesh is sweeter and less watery. However, you can switch the jack-o-lantern variety with fairly good results if you manage the moisture of the pulp you collect. Anticipate about one pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin for each cup finished pumpkin puree for cooking purposes.

A pumpkin is ripening when its skin turns a deep, solid color (orange for most varieties).

When you thumb the pumpkin, the rind will feel hard and it will sound hollow. Press your nail into the pumpkin’s skin; if it resists puncture, it is ripe. This resistance doesn’t mean it’s indestructible, so handle pumpkins very gently or they may bruise.

To harvest the pumpkin, cut the fruit off the vine carefully with a sharp knife or pruners; do not tear it off. Be sure not to cut too close to the pumpkin; a substantial amount of stem (3 to 4 inches) will increase the pumpkin’s keeping time. If the stem is cut down too low the pumpkin will breakdown quickly or may be decaying when you buy it. Avoid pumpkins with scars and soft spots. It should be heavy, but shape is really important. An irregular shaped pumpkin is not necessarily a bad pumpkin. Pumpkins should be cured in the sun for about a week to toughen the skin and then stored in a cool, dry bedroom or cellar—anywhere around 55ºF.

To learn more about finding pumpkins near youhttp://www.ncagr.gov/markets/commodit/horticul/pumpkin/

For more information on growing and using pumpkins,  take a look at

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/growing-pumpkins-and-winter-squash

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County