Pick a pumpkin

Posted September 12, 2013 at 11:46 am

Pumpkin Flower 2 cc.tif

by Marilyn Odneal, Horticulture Adviser

Picking a pumpkin can be interesting and fun since there are so many types to choose from.

Pumpkins and gourds are both members of the Cucurbit family and require similar care. The Cucurbitaceae have a lot to offer cooks and crafters. There are pie pumpkins and squashes for canning and baking, jack-o-lantern types for carving or painting, small ornamental pumpkins and gourds for decoration, utility gourds that can be made into useful items, and giant pumpkins just to brag about. Although all pumpkins can be used for seed, some varieties produce hull-less seed that is easy to roast and eat.

The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word “pepon” which means large melon. The French changed it to “pompon” and the English changed it again to “pumpion.” American colonists finally changed “pumpion” into the “pumpkin” that we know today.

Native Americans roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire for food. The American colonists made a the first type of pumpkin pie when they sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, filled the insides with milk, spices and honey and then baked it.

Pumpkins and gourds require similar care. Pumpkins can be harvested whenever they have a deep solid, usually orange, color and the rind is hard. Both pumpkins and gourds should be harvested before heavy frosts.

Be sure to choose a pumpkin with a stem of at least 3 to 4 inches. Pumpkins without stems, not fully mature, injured or subjected to heavy frost do not keep well. Pumpkins that are decorated by paint will last longer than those that are carved – but the pumpkin seed is a bonus if you are a carver rather than a painter. Store pumpkins in a cool, dry place before you use them.

Lovely ornamental gourds also brighten up our fall season. They are harvested when the stem turns brown and the tendrils next to the stem become dry. Gourds that are used to make bird houses and implements take about 120 to 140 days during the growing season to mature. Utility gourds develop hard shells and may begin to change from green to tan/yellow. The stem should be very tough and brown and the necks on long-handled gourds should be stiff. Harvest with at least one inch of stem attached. These gourds may take four to six weeks of curing and even up to a year in order to dry completely. The curing process can be hastened by scraping off the thin green skin. Hard-shelled utility gourds can also be dried indoors with the skin intact creating designs on the surface.

So have fun picking out your pumpkins and gourds for fall – whether for eating or decoration – cucurbits are cooks and crafters best fall friend!

Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at MarilynOdneal@missouristate.edu; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our Web site at http://mtngrv.missouristate.edu.

PUMPKIN FLOWER – Weeeeeone hybrid pumpkin is a smaller, ornamental pumpkin that is very versatile. Here you see the ripening fruit along with the large pumpkin flower.