One of our favorite fall activities is carving pumpkins. Jack-o-lanterns make great Halloween decorations for your porch or patio, and you can create a range of pumpkin faces from scary to silly to pumpkin versions of your favorite storybook characters. But it all starts with choosing the right pumpkin, and we got the scoop straight from the pumpkin patch.
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1. Check out the color of the pumpkin.
When it comes to finding the perfect pumpkin for carving, color makes a huge difference. "A pale yellow pumpkin isn't going to keep long," says Lana Rufener of Rufener Hilltop Farms and Market in Suffield, Ohio. "Make sure it's a good color, and what you want is a deeper orange." A pumpkin that is mostly green, but has patches of orange would still be a good pumpkin to choose if you don't plan to carve it right away, Rufener says. "A pumpkin can still ripen even after you've picked it from the patch, but don't start carving until it's majority orange."
2. Look for holes, wounds, or scabs on the pumpkin.
"You don't want soft spots or darkening spots," says Linda Dussel of Dussel Farms in Brimfield, Ohio. "Small imperfections can be okay if you plan to carve the pumpkin right away, but if you're waiting and need the pumpkin to hold up, then you don't want it to have any blemishes." Soft spots indicate that the pumpkin is beginning to spoil and rot. To check for soft spots, feel around the pumpkin with your hands and press across the skin of the pumpkin with your fingers. Scrapes, on the other hand, aren't as bad as wounds or soft spots when it comes to carving a pumpkin. "You need to make sure that your pumpkin doesn't have any open holes," says Rufener. "But a blemish-free pumpkin would be the ideal choice."
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3. Choose a pumpkin with a green stem.
The stem of the pumpkin can be a good indicator of its health. "A stem that's a pretty green is always best," says Rufener. "Stems can dry up, though, and that's okay. The pumpkin can still be good." What you need to look for is evidence of mold. The growth of mold signals that the pumpkin is on its way to decaying, and you don't want that. "A green handle is better than a brown handle if you want your pumpkin to last through October," says Dussel.
4. Don't go for mini pumpkins.
They might look cute, but Dussel says that they can be harder to carve. The small size of the pumpkin could increase the risk of getting cut with the carving knife and requires a better level of skill when carving. "The smaller size also means that you might not be able to fit a candle or a flashlight in the pumpkin," Dussel says. So, if you want to choose a pumpkin that both you and your children can carve together, a larger pumpkin is always the best route. Another benefit of choosing a large pumpkin? "They can be sculpted like clay for carving really cool facial features," Dussel says. "Carve outside in, and you can get some great light and shadow effects with a large jack-o-lantern."
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5. But an odd-looking pumpkin might be perfect.
If you want to have a truly frightening or unique jack-o-lantern, then choosing an odd-shaped pumpkin might be the right way to go. "Sometimes, pumpkins are odd shaped if they've grown next to a rock or had a vine wrapped around it," Dussel says. "So-called warty pumpkins have been really popular during Halloween because they make great faces for goblins or witches." The "warts" aren't true warts. Instead, it's a genetic mutation that creates a bumpy texture across the skin of the pumpkin that resembles warts in appearance. "It's one of the many variety of pumpkins," says Dussel. "And it might be exactly what you're looking for."