Has Your Perfect Pumpkin Ever Caved In?

pumpkin, sad-graphicOne day your pumpkin is bright orange with a nice sturdy skin – looking just glorious. The next day it has collapsed in on itself and is just a slimy orange mess. What happened?

Many commercially available “Halloween” pumpkins are specifically grown to be oversized, thin-walled, with a huge seed pocket and a relatively small proportion of flesh, perfect for carving funny or scary faces. The smaller sugar pumpkins have more fleshy pumpkin meat for cooking and often have better flavor and texture.

A bit of pumpkin trivia:  Pumpkins are a type of squash and are a member of the gourd family – think squash, cucumbers, and melons. We think of pumpkins as vegetables, but biologically they’re a fruit because they come from a flower and have seeds.

How To Avoid Pumpkin “Cave-In”

Because pumpkins come in many sizes, shapes, and colors you can look for one that appeals to your creative self. But, to avoid pumpkin “cave-in”:

  •  Pick one with no cuts, bruises, or soft spots and with flesh that feels hard and doesn’t give easily.   According to a pumpkin grower at my local farmers’ market, organisms can easily get inside any cut in the flesh – even a small nick — and cause rot.  Your perfect pumpkin will be great one day and the next day it has totally caved-in on itself.
  • My farmers’ market source also told me that pumpkins can heal themselves (really, that’s what he said) – if you see a cut in the flesh, expose the cut to air and keep it dry.
  • There’s some chance that if your pumpkin is greenish in color you can leave it in a cool dry spot – not refrigerated – and it will ripen and turn orange.
  • A pumpkin’s stem should be attached, but don’t use it to pick the pumpkin up. Stems break off easily and can leave potential entry spots for organisms to invade and cause the dreaded pumpkin cave-in.
  • Gently tap your pumpkin and listen for how hollow it sounds. Lift it (not by the stem) to get an idea of how dense it is. The heavier a pumpkin is, the thicker its walls. If you’re going to carve a Jack-o’-lantern, thick walls will block the candlelight and no one will be able to see your fantastic (or maybe not so fantastic) carving.
  • Tall, oblong-shaped pumpkins are often stringier inside — which makes it difficult to make precise cuts.
  • Store your pumpkin carefully, especially if you pick it off the vine. You can toughen-up, or cure, a fresh-picked pumpkin by keeping it in a dry place without handling or disturbing it. Curing toughens the rind and makes it less prone to rot. 

After The Carving . . .

A carved pumpkin starts to dry and shrivel up as soon as it’s cut and exposed to air.

To keep your jack-o’-lantern fresh longer:

  • Keep it cool and out of direct sunlight
  • Spray it with an anti-transpirant (like Wilt-Pruf and other brands).
  • If you’re having a party or just want a big “reveal,” drape your pumpkin with a damp towel until just before show time.
  • Protect your masterpiece from animals who might find it appealing.
  • Don’t leave your Jack-o’-lantern outside if there’s a threat of frost.

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