As the hot days of summer wind down with cooler nights and shorter days ushering in the season of autumn with falling leaves and bright blue skies, pumpkins color to an orange hue and finish ripening on the vine. When cool night breezes whisper along the papery brown cornstalks sending cold shivers up your spine and caramel apples begin appearing on grocery shelves, fall is officially here and it is time to pick pumpkins.
While picking the perfect pumpkin does not have to include a drive to the local pumpkin patch, it is a perfect way to enjoy a sunny autumn day with the family. Start an annual family tradition of visiting a pumpkin patch to pick your pumpkin. Most patches have enjoyable and fun games for the kids along with mazes and good eats. There is also the added bonus of picking your own pumpkins from the patch to carve a Jack O’Lantern or make a pumpkin pie.
The legend of the Jack O’Lantern originates from Ireland. Common folklore has it that a lazy farmer named Jack tricked the devil into taking the shape of a coin so Jack could pay the villagers for items that he had stolen from them. When Jack placed the coin in his wallet, he put it next to a cross which negated the devil’s powers. Jack only released the devil after he made him promise never to take his soul. After Jack died, he was not allowed into heaven because of his wicked ways and the devil could not take him because of his promise, so Jack was doomed to roam the earth. He asked the devil how he was supposed to find his way in the dark and the devil threw him an ever burning ember. Jack carved out a turnip for a lantern and stuck the ember in it becoming known as Jack of the Lantern. As time passed it was shortened to Jack O’Lantern.
Pumpkins mature anywhere from 85 to 120 days depending on the variety. A Cinderella pumpkin resembles the coach from that fairy tale. A Sugar Pie pumpkin is a great baking pumpkin for pies. There is even a pumpkin hybrid named Jack O’Lantern which has been bred especially for carving pumpkins. Even though the flesh is not tasty; the walls are stiff and stay firm when carved.
A perfect pumpkin should have even coloring with no open cuts. Turn the pumpkin over and check the bottom by pushing with your thumbs. It should be firm and not give way. Carefully examine the pumpkin for soft spots or mold which indicates damage or spoilage. If the stem of the pumpkin is green, you know it has just been harvested. A pumpkin should feel heavy and firm. Choose a pumpkin with a flat bottom so it will sit flat after it has been carved. Once you pick a perfect pumpkin, keep it in a cool dry place until it is ready to carve. Save the seeds and roast them for an autumn treat.
Search for a perfect pumpkin when the days of autumn are crisp and sunny. Make it a memorable day by loading up the car and meandering down the road to the local pumpkin patch. Fall is here and it is time to pick pumpkins.