Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES -- Few things characterize Halloween like the pumpkin. Similar to Christmas trees at Christmas, many pumpkins are grown for one use--carved jack-o'-lanterns.
"Selecting the perfect pumpkin for Halloween decorating depends on its ultimate use," said George Dickerson, horticulture specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.
For narrow windowsills, smaller, more than slender pumpkins may be needed. "Pumpkins often are flat on one side because of how they lie in the field," he said. The flat side may not be a problem in one-sided window decorations.
Larger, rounder pumpkins are better for table displays where all sides can be seen.
Many New Mexico pumpkins are are grown in the Estancia Valley, east of Albuquerque, and marketed through retail grocery stores.Pumpkins also can be purchased at local growers' markets or directly from the farmers' fields.
"Both parents and children enjoy the excitement of selecting the perfect pumpkin from a sea of orange at a local farm," Dickerson said. "It's also a great educational experience to learn more about farm life."
When choosing a pumpkin for carving, make sure the stem is firmly attached and can be used as a handle for the jack-o'-lantern lid. "Pumpkins without stems are more susceptible to bacterial soft rot, which can enter where the stem has broken off," he said.
Inspect the pumpkin carefully for soft spots. The entire pumpkin should feel firm. Hail-damaged pumpkins may have bacterial soft rot. Powdery mildew, often a problem on the foliage, also can cause pumpkins to soften.
Before carving a pumpkin, plan your design with pencil and paper. Fold the paper in half and draw only half the face on one side of the fold. cut out the design with scissors and unfold the paper for a symmetrical face. Place the pattern on the pumpkin and trace the design with a felt tip pen.
Cut the lid at a slight angle so the top is wider than the bottom. This will prevent the lid from falling into the pumpkin once it's carved. "The lid should be large enough to fit your hand through in order to clean out the inside of the jack-o'-lantern," Dickerson said.
Clean out all the seeds and stringy pulp with a spoon and your hands.
Carve eyes, nose, mouth and other features with a narrow knife. Hobby stores sell pumpkin-carving kits with exotic designs and small saws. "For longer-lasting jack-o'-lanterns, choose a design with sufficient flesh between the cuts to support the face," he said. Burning candles inside the jack-o'-lantern will cause the pumpkin to collapse in a few days. '
For special effects, Dickerson suggests carving a white pumpkin to use as the head of a stuffed ghost. Miniature pumpkins are excellent table decorations. "I like 'Jack-Be-Little', which is onle about 3 inches in diameter and 2 inches tall," he said.
'Triple Treat' is a versatile variety that can be carved or made into pies. The hull-less seeds also can be roasted for crunchy treats, Dickerson said.
© 2013 New Mexico State University Board of Regents
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