Picking the Perfect Pumpkin
The tradition of Halloween jack-o’-lanterns goes back to the Irish who originally carved big turnips into jack-o’-lanterns, said Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator based in Chicago.
“With the influx of Irish immigrants into the United States, pumpkins became the fruit of choice for carving and yes; pumpkins are a fruit, not a vegetable,” he said.
Pumpkins are grown all over the world including the state of Illinois. They are grown on every continent, except for Antarctica.
“As a matter of fact, Morton, Illinois calls itself the ‘Pumpkin Capital of the World’,” Wolford noted. “The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed over 1,140 pounds. That may be a little too big for a jack-o’-lantern.”
Pumpkins are used to make pies, soups and breads. The biggest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It took over 80 pumpkins to make the pie. The seeds can be roasted for a delicious snack and the large pumpkin flowers are edible. Pumpkins are 90% water and contain potassium and Vitamin A.
Wolford recommends the following few tips for selecting that perfect pumpkin.
- Choose a pumpkin with a stem and never carry it by the stem. Pumpkins without a stem will not last long.
- Select a pumpkin with a flat bottom, so it will stand upright.
- Avoid pumpkins with holes, cuts or soft spots. These areas will rot.
- Light colored pumpkins are easier to carve because the skin is not as hard as darker orange colored ones, but they will not keep as well.
- Wash the pumpkin with warm water and let it dry before carving.
- To make the pumpkin last longer, keep it in a cool place until ready to carve. After carving, coat the cuts with petroleum jelly.
For more information about pumpkins and a listing of local pumpkin farms, check out the web site Pumpkins and More at www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins or call 773-233-0476.