I truly look forward to picking out pumpkins every autumn. Ask my husband, it makes me giddy! Honestly, I kind of love everything about fall. Who doesn’t, right? We have a family tradition of picking out our pumpkins at the Dallas Farmers Market. It’s a sentimental place for me.
My father (the big city car dealer turned west Texas cattle rancher) has a green thumb like no other. I have fond memories of going to the Dallas Farmers Market with my parents growing up. Dad would always buy plants at Ruibal’s and mom and I would buy produce from local vendors. That was ages ago but due to some pretty awesome additions, including The Market shops and counter service restaurants, the Farmers Market is now a cool place to visit again.
Did I mention that the Dallas Farmers Market has some of the biggest pumpkins I’ve ever seen? At such fair prices, I wanted to buy them all! Thank goodness I had the family accountant (a.k.a. my husband) there to reign me in. He does appreciate, however, that at least I’ll get our money’s worth out of our pumpkin purchase because I understand that there is a technique for how to choose pumpkins.
Here’s a few tips that I’ve learned over the years.
How to Choose Pumpkins
1. Be mindful of the stem. Don’t pick up a pumpkin by its stem because it can break off and damage the pumpkin. Pumpkin stems give pumpkins character so be extra careful with them.
2. Check the entire pumpkin for spots, bruises, mold, cuts and scratches. Bruising can mean that a pumpkin is rotting and even the smallest nick can let infection inside. Always check the bottom of the pumpkin too.
Picking a Pumpkin for Carving
3. The perfect pumpkin for carving is a firm one. You want its shell to be hard but you still need to be able to cut into it. If the outside of a pumpkin feels too soft or as hard as a piece of wood, you should pick a different one. Avoid tall, oblong pumpkins which are harder to cut due to the stringiness of their insides.
4. Gently tap the pumpkin and listen for a slight hollow sound. You want to avoid pumpkins with really thick walls because they can block your carving details and dim candle light.
5. Decide what you want to carve beforehand and choose pumpkins accordingly. If you have stencils, bring them to the pumpkin patch with you and hold them up to prospective pumpkins to make sure you have enough carving space.
6. Make sure the pumpkin is level because balance is important in carving. Your pumpkin should sit up straight and never roll over.
7. Keep carved pumpkins fresh by storing them in a cool, dark location draped with a damp paper towels when they aren’t on display. You can also spray them with a protective coating like Wilt-Pruf.
Pumpkins for Cooking
8. When choosing pumpkins for cooking and baking, pick from among the smaller varieties. They’re the sweetest! These “sugar” pumpkins weight around four pounds and have smoother, less stringy flesh than larger pumpkins.
9. The duller the shell, the better. As long as there aren’t any visible bruises or blemishes, a pumpkin with a dull shell is great for baking because the flesh gets sweeter with age.
10. When in doubt, ask for the name of the pumpkin. Growers know this information and there are many cooking varieties of pumpkins out there with names like “sugar pumpkin” and “pie pumpkin” and so on.
Now that you know what to look for, you too can become a pumpkin picking extraordinaire! Where do you go to select your pumpkins each year?