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10 Tips for Picking the Perfect Pumpkin

Alaina Sullivan
Aug. 26, 2013

Choose the best pumpkin for carving or eating this Halloween.

Fall brings with it so many fun traditions, drinking apple cider, making caramel apples and, most importantly, visiting the pumpkin patch! You need to pick out a just-right pumpkin to be carved or decorated for Halloween night. But before you go, educate yourself.

Here are ten expert tips for making sure your pumpkin is jack-o'-lantern-worthy:

  1. Avoid the Mush
    The pumpkin should be firm all over, according to Dan and Diane Pawlowski, owners of Pumpkinville, a 200-acre pumpkin farm in Great Valley, N.Y. While it may look perfect from the outside, soft spots can indicate decaying on the inside. That discovery could be disastrous come carving time.

  2. Ban Blemishes
    Don't pick a pumpkin with any brown spots, suggests the Pawlowskis. Even spots as small as a pencil eraser mean bugs have been chewing on the pumpkin and may have burrowed into it. Bug infestation can quickly diminish a pumpkin's shelf life.

  3. Go Orange
    You can buy pumpkins in lots of different colors and shades, but traditional pumpkins should be orange all over. Minor discoloration is OK, but green on a mostly orange pumpkin can mean something is wrong.

  4. Have a Good Handle
    A pumpkin must have a hard, dark green or black stem. If you pick up the pumpkin, and the stem bends and breaks, put it down. You'll be thankful for the nice, strong handle when you're lugging it back to the car.

  5. Pay Attention to Shape
    Round or oval pumpkins carve easier, give you more canvas to work with and have more yummy seeds for roasting. A misshapen pumpkin will not have a full cavity for seeds.

  6. Look for Frost Damage
    If you live in an area where frost is a concern, make sure the pumpkin has no frost damage -- which lessens its shelf life. Look at the top of the pumpkin -- specifically around the stem. If the color is dull, the pumpkin has frost damage.

  7. Find the Right Surface
    Getting a pumpkin with a exterior that's easy to carve is a must, too, says mother of two, Judy Workman of Westfield, Ind. "We just let the kids pick whatever they like, hopefully with a surface that looks suitable for cutting on at least one side," she says.

    If you're going to carve a face in a pumpkin, Robert Melton, founder of Funtober, recommends going for an oblong shape instead of a round one. And find a pumpkin with a flat bottom, so it sits well.

  8. Go for Character
    Your pumpkin doesn't have to be perfect. "Picking a pumpkin is more than just finding a big round one," says Kate Horvat, spokesperson for Halloweencostumes.com. "Choosing one with bumps and lumps adds character to the final product."

  9. Evaluate Thickness
    Melton suggests matching the thickness of your pumpkin to your design. If you're going to cut through the walls, look for a pumpkin that sounds hollow. One for cooking should have thicker walls, which are more difficult to carve.

  10. Paint Your Pumpkin
    Carving is not everything, however. Melton encourages parents to let their children paint pumpkins instead of using the traditional carving knife. "It's much safer, easier and just as fun for them," he says.

    Check out these 13 Easy No-Carve Pumpkin Designs ť

  11. Follow Your Heart
    The perfect pumpkin is often the one your child loves, no matter its shape or size. Bring a wagon to carry it -- and your tired pumpkin-picker -- back to the car after a long day of pumpkin hunting.

In the end, have fun with it. You may not find perfection right out the gate. The final product depends on the weather, summer climate and a whole host of other factors. All that matters in the end is making the Halloween holiday as fun as possible for your family. You may not find that picture-perfect, Martha Stewart-esque pumpkin, but having fun in the process is all that matters.

And now that you found the right one, get tips on How to Carve a Pumpkin ť

Alaina Sullivan is a freelance writer in Indianapolis, Ind. Her work can be found here.

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