BOULDER COUNTY – When I plant my garden each year, two things are guaranteed to happen: I arrogantly predict which crop is going to be a beauty that year, and Mother Nature responds by turning a different crop into the blockbuster. We’ve never seen eye to eye so it came as no surprise to me that, this year, pumpkins ran amok in the garden.
So prolific and early were the pumpkins that I had fully ripe ones before harvesting a single cucumber from the patch. The vines climbed up and over beds, roses, and sunflowers to reach the front yard. Friends touring the garden often started counting all of the orange gourds, only to stop in exhaustion because of the sheer number of fruit before them. Tall, flat, round, and itty-bitty, this is the year of the pumpkin for us.
I blame All America Selections for this (all-americaselections.org/index.cfm). Between their Cinderella’s Carriage, Sorcerer, Wee-B-Little, and Pepitas, there are pumpkins all over the place. Each one has endearing attributes and, though all are orange, they serve very different purposes.
AAS describes this as a fairy tale type pumpkin, but don’t worry – it doesn’t reach out and grab toddlers like one of the Grimm Brothers’ tales. Cinderella’s Carriage is eager to grow and shakes off trouble from Powdery Mildew. The flat, round fruits are bright red and bake up sweet and nutty, perfect for fall soups, stews, or side dishes.
If you want a big, traditional Jack O’ Lantern, Sorcerer has all the right magic. It has a deep orange color with light ribbing that give it a classic pumpkin look. These were the ones rambling along the garden and producing the show-stoppers; their size and gorgeous coloring had neighbors and friends commenting on them.
A round, adorable little pumpkin that is the perfect miniature of its larger cousins. A 1999 introduction stays fairly compact for its ilk; only eight feet of shoulder room is needed for the vines. The tiny, eight-ounce gourds tuck nicely into cornucopias, on desks, as centerpieces, or entry table décor. As a bonus, they make an unforgettable side dish to meals when baked like winter squash. The flavor is nutty, slightly sweet. Leave them whole for culinary drama, but pierce them before roasting whole.
The real winner in this year’s pumpkin patch was this gorgeous little pumpkin. With stripes and speckles of green against an orange background, this was the plant that produced and ripened fruit before the cucumbers even thought about flowering. From a cook’s perspective, Pepitas has what its larger cousins don’t: naked seeds. So if you love pumpkin seeds but not the dry hull, go naked with Pepitas.
Help your pumpkin last with these tips:
– Strong stems keep the pumpkin fresh, so look for those that are fully attached to the skin.
– Choose firm, not mushy pumpkins. Avoid those with cuts in the skin; they’ll rot quickly.
– Keep your pumpkin cool, not freezing or overly hot. Store away from direct sunlight, and bring it in if frost is predicted.
Once your pumpkin is picked and safely home, keep it fresh and ready for the big night with these tips:
– Wait to carve your pumpkin until one or two days before Halloween.
– Scrape out the walls to a thickness of one inch for easiest carving.
– Immediately after carving, smear petroleum jelly over the interior and cut surfaces to lock moisture in.
– Pumpkins wilt in three days; perk yours up by soaking it in water. Mix one teaspoon of bleach to one gallon of water to prevent mold from growing.
Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.