I’m a little late to the part this year in terms of pumpkin carving, but having seen a month’s worth of news about Halloween, I realised this kind of discussion was lacking. There are oodles of tutorials on how to carve your pumpkin, but very little on how to select that pumpkin to begin with.
This came to me after a discussion I had with my green grocer, who had dragged me to his back room to search for the “best” pumpkin available as he deemed the one I had picked insufficient. I, on the other hand, was perfectly happy with my choice, and actually happier than I normally am when I’m not able to hit a pumpkin patch and pick my own.
The question is, what makes the perfect pumpkin for carving?
A lot of people will instinctively tell you Size, but that has never been metric. While size is helpful, you can still carve small and large pumpkins quite successfully as the myriad of tutorials on how to carve pumpkins on the web will show you. No, for me size is only important in that I prefer a pumpkin where I will be able to get my fist in easily once I’ve cut the top off. I’ve nothing against big and small pumpkins, but I don’t need them to make me feel like I’ve gotten the authentic experience.
What is it I look for you? It comes down to three things for me:
A Stem I Can Use
I didn’t use to worry so much about this, but now that I’m picking pumpkins from a store instead of a pumpkin patch it has become increasingly difficult. At pumpkin patches, I could clip my stem long enough so it would look cool, be interesting, or at the very least be usable.Unfortunately, I can’t seem to replicate that when I’m stuck with st
Store pumpkins typically cut their stems very short. Good for packing them into crates, and the stems don’t dry up and look shrivelly which might make folks not buy them (although why not I don’t get as I actually feel this gives them more character). There is nothing worse than trying to lift out your pumpkin’s lid only to have the stem slip from my fingers time and again. Ok, sure, I could use a knife or something else but when I’m lighting candles, I don’t like to have to do that as well. It also makes placing the lid back on more than a one hand operation. So I look for the longer stems now.
This is also important if you want to go for a non-top loaded pumpkin. The clever faces using stems are less appealing to me when they have flat smooshed stems as their noses.
A Minimum of Blemishes
Pumpkins can take quite a bit of battering, but I like to find one that doesn’t look like its gone several rounds in the ring. There are two kinds of blemishes I look at- indentations/bruises and what I call facial scarring.
Indentations are the bruises the pumpkin has. While they are unlikely to spoil the look of your pumpkin when its lit, they can speak to the life expectancy of your pumpkin. Speaking to my green grocer this weekend, he confirmed what I’d always suspected- the more bruised your pumpkin the more likely your pumpkin was picked a longer time ago. Fresher pumpkins don’t have the time to get significant bruising that show up, so if a pumpkin has a lot of bruising it may not last as long.
If you’re carving your pumpkin the day of Halloween, this isn’t an issue, but if you are hoping for a good run of lit pumpkins, the last thing you want is for your pumpkin to die before Halloween arrives. (Incidentally, if you’re looking for better pumpkin for pumpkin pie or other culinary delights, the bruised ones often taste better as they are riper.)
Facial scarring is what I call the callous like growths sometimes found on pumpkins (the white yellowish scabs in the picture above). They’re usually light coloured and are where the flesh of the pumpkin actually healed at one time during its growth. These I’ve found can actually show while a pumpkin is lit, because the blemish is thicker than the rest of the skin of the pumpkin. I check the placements of these, because the last thing I want is for them to ruin the look of my pumpkin’s face, which is my last, and most important requirement.
A Good Face
What do I mean by good face? I look for a section of the pumpkin that is almost one side where there is almost no blemishes at all, or that that placement of the blemishes will likely be removed when I’m carving. I prefer my face to be on the larger side of the pumpkin if its possible, but sometimes finding any pumpkin with a good face is difficult, so I take what I can get.
I do find that the face on a pumpkin also determines the face I carve on it. This year’s is going to be a sideways face, so I’m thinking it will be goofier, rather than scary. There’s a character there, and rather than just pushing ahead with any old face, I like to bring out the face I think my pumpkin has.
Those are my requirements, but do you have others? I would love to hear about it on our forums.