Enjoying NC Pumpkins as Part of Your Fall Festivities

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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 to be more than 4,500 acres, most of which is in the western part of the state. In Lee County, we see several farms produce several acres of pumpkins each so you can go out and pick out your own pumpkin locally.

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 C, which is important to our overall health. It also has a lot of vitamin A, as well!

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 varieties are usually denser and heavier, and the flesh is sweeter and less watery. It can be challenging to use a jack-o’-lantern-type pumpkins in cooking, as their flesh has a lot more water and may require more cooking time and dumping out water during the cooking process. 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 generally resists puncture, it is ripe. This resistance doesn’t mean it’s indestructible, so handle pumpkins very gently or they may bruise. This may lead to faster rotting, if you are using them for decoration.

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, about three to four inches, will increase the pumpkin’s keeping time. If the stem is cut down too close to the fruit, the pumpkin will break down quickly or may be decaying when you buy it. Avoid pumpkins with scars and soft spots. An irregular shaped pumpkin is not necessarily a bad pumpkin.

For storing, it is important to cure pumpkins in the sun for about a week to toughen the skin and then store them in a cool, dry bedroom or cellar—anywhere around 55ºF.

Pumpkins are incredible fruits and are so versatile in our fall landscapes. Check out all the amazing decorative and cooking options you have with our local pumpkins.


Amanda Wilkins is a horticulture agent at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Office in Lee County. This article was updated from an article from Minda Daughtry, who was the horticulture agent in Lee County, from September 28, 2016.