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The perfect jack-o-lantern or decorative pumpkin starts with selecting the right fruit. Whether you buy from a store or go directly to the pumpkin patch, there are a few things to look for to make sure that you get the best pumpkin for your purposes.
First off, decide what color pumpkin you’d like. Orange is most popular, but some farms will grow white varieties. As white pumpkins gain popularity, they should be available at more retailers and patches. Some farms are even growing pink-ish pumpkins in support of breast cancer organizations. They’re still pretty orange, but they have a slightly pink tinge. If you’re hoping to find a pink pumpkin in your area, check the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation’s website to find participating farms and stores. If you’re looking for a color other than orange, you may want to call the farm or store first to see if they have any white varieties. If you had your heart set on a green or black shade, you may have better luck finding a large gourd.
When you find the color you like, look for one in your desired size. If you already have a carving design picked out, you’ll want to make sure that your pumpkin is big enough to accommodate the carving. You can always blow a design up to make it larger for a bigger pumpkin, but it’s hard to decrease a design’s size and maintain all of the detail, so size really does matter (at least in the case of pumpkins).
Pumpkins with flat bottoms are best for carving and displaying because they won’t roll away while you’re working on them or once they’re on your front step. Check the bottom to make sure that it hasn’t been damaged, because bacteria and pests can get into scratches and holes, further damaging the pumpkin.
Make sure that your pumpkin has no bruises. Bruises can show up as a discoloration or a mushy part and can signal some gross stuff going on inside the pumpkin. If the pumpkin seems too heavy or you can hear a sloshing noise, odds are that the insides have rotted to mush. If you open that pumpkin up, you’ll be dealing with smelly liquid pumpkin goo, so you’ll want to put that pumpkin back and select another.
Check the stem. Walt, of Walt’s Pumpkin Carving Secrets, says that a sturdy stem is a sign of a healthy pumpkin. He warns not to pick a pumpkin up by its stem, no matter how sturdy it seems, because it can damage the pumpkin and make it decompose faster.
Carving the insides out of a pumpkin can be gross enough, so make sure that you’re starting off with a fresh pumpkin. Healthy pumpkins that are properly cared for after carving can have a nice, long life (by long, I mean a week) on your porch before it rots.