By Carol Kagan, Penn State Master Gardener, Franklin County
|Three on a hay bale (C.Kagan)|
School’s back in session and the “back to school” items have been pushed to the rear shelves. Halloween, harvest time, Thanksgiving and, yes, Christmas and all the other mid-winter holidays have taken over.
|Heels over head in the pumpkin bin (C.Kagan)|
If you grew pumpkins this year and they survived any groundhogs (the nemesis in the 4-H Achievement Garden this year), squash bugs, squash vine borer, cucumber beetles, or aphids, you have the makings for not only Jack-O-Lanterns but pumpkin seed snacks and pumpkin flavored foods.
Harvesting PumpkinsAlthough a light frost is not damaging to pumpkins, they should be harvested before a hard freeze. To see if a pumpkin is ready to harvest check the stems. The stems should be dry and the skin should not break when pressed by a thumbnail.
|Don't carry pumpkins by the stem (WikiCommons)|
To harvest, cut the fruit from the vine with pruners or loppers. Leave a long section of the stem attached. Avoid breaking the skin and bruising fruit when handling. Penn State Master Gardener Emelie Swackhamer, Lehigh County, also cautions not to pick the pumpkin up by the stem as it can snap and a falling pumpkin can get broken or even hurt your foot. Until you are ready to use them, pumpkins will store for two to three months with temperatures above freezing and below 65° F.
Jack-O-LanternsSwackhamer posted tips online for picking the best pumpkins for carving. In choosing a pumpkin look for one without rotten spots or scrapes, with a green stem (handle) firmly attached, and that sits solidly on the ground. Lighter orange pumpkins tend to be easier to carve because their walls are thinner, but they also may not keep as long. Darker orange pumpkins tend to have thicker walls and are often harder to carve, but they often last longer because their rind is harder.
|Cut out a lid (Christine S)|
Use one of the serrated pumpkin-carving knives instead of a sharp kitchen knife. Younger children should always be supervised but more importantly, this is an ideal activity for the family – parents and children. Cut a circle around the stem at the top and remove it. This is the lid. If you plan to use a candle and put the lid back on, be sure to remove most of the pulp and cut notches in three or four places around the edge of the lid.
|Scoop out the "stringy stuff" (WikiCommons)|
Scoop out the seeds* and stringy stuff, scraping the sides. This is easily accomplished with a metal spoon. Now carefully carve designs through the walls of the pumpkin, cutting from the outside. Use a glow stick to light your pumpkin so you will not have to worry about fire.
The West Virginia Extension Service suggests, after carving, dipping the pumpkin in a large container of bleach and water (use a 1 tsp: 1 gal. mix). Bleach will kill bacteria and help your pumpkin stay fresh longer. Once completely dry, (drain upside down), add 2 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to a quart of water. Brush this solution onto your pumpkin to keep it looking fresh for weeks. Another suggestion is to cover the carved areas and inside with petroleum jelly to keep if from drying out.
|Pie is one way to eat pumpkins (WikiCommons)|
Pumpkin EatingPumpkins are an especially hardy crop, dark orange in color and loaded with both alpha and beta carotene. These micro-nutrients are the phytochemicals, or “plant chemicals,” needed to form vitamin A. An essential component in our daily diet, vitamin A promotes the formation of a strong immune system, healthy skin and clear vision.
Pumpkins come in many varieties and are cultivated and used for a multitude of reasons. One example is the “pie” pumpkin, specifically developed for baking and/or cooking purposes. Ideally, pie pumpkins should exhibit a deep orange color. After halving, remove the seeds* and stringy stuff then cook this pumpkin, either in the oven for 30 -60 minutes at 350°, or microwave on high for 15 minutes. Now you can peel the pumpkin and cut or puree it for use in soup, muffins, pudding or pies.
*Pumpkin Seed Snacks Preheat the oven to 250°F.It’s icky but fun to pick through the stringy stuff and pull out the seeds to make snacks. Discard any broken seeds and clean off all the stringy stuff. Follow the recipe below for 2 cups of seeds.
Ingredients:1 Qt. water
2 Tbsp. salt* (may be omitted)
2 C. pumpkin seeds, cleaned and dried
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil or melted, unsalted butterBring the water (and salt) to a boil. Add the seeds and boil for 10 minutes. Drain the seeds, spread on kitchen towel or paper towel and pat dry.
Put the seeds in a bowl and toss with oil or melted butter. Stir in salt or any other herb or seasoning desired. Try onion or garlic salt before roasting. Like spicy food? Try a Cajun or Mexican mix of dried spices.
Spread evenly on a large cookie sheet or roasting pan. Place pan in the preheated oven and roast for 30-40 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Remove and cool the seeds. Shell and eat them or pack them in plastic bags and refrigerate until ready to eat.
Cool the seeds, then shell and eat or pack in air-tight containers or zip closure bags and refrigerate until ready to eat.
Visit these links for more information:
PSU LehighMaster Gardeners: Picking a Great Jack O Lantern by Emelie Swackhamer: Horticulture Educator, Lehigh & Northampton Co. Cooperative Extension