How to Pick and Preserve a Pumpkin

How to pick and preserve a pumpkin, including tips on choosing a pumpkin, saving pumpkin seeds and MOTHER's all-time favorite pumpkin pie recipe.

  • Picking and preserving pumpkins
    A field full of fall's flavored food.

  • Picking and preserving pumpkins

How to pick and preserve a pumpkin best for cooking, and a recipe for making MOTHER's favorite pumpkin pie. 

How to Pick and Preserve a Pumpkin

O, it sets my heart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
(James Whitcomb Riley)

When most of us think of pumpkins, we tend to limit our conjuring to visions of spicy pies and eerily glimmering jack-o'-lanterns. Actually, though, the bright round gourds have served a number of additional purposes — gastronomic and otherwise — since . . . well, since before recorded history.

In fact, archaeologists have found the remains of pumpkins among the relics left by ancient cliff dwellers. And when Europeans first arrived on these shores, they were quick to learn — from native Americans — to plant the distinctive squash between hills of corn . . . discovering that their sprawling vines served as a living mulch and helped keep the maize fields free of weeds. The early settlers apparently developed "orange thumbs" in this regard, too . . . because Samuel Eliot Morison (an expert on the period) writes, in his book The Story of the "Old Colony" of New Plymouth , that the pumpkins harvested prior to that first Thanksgiving were piled "in great golden heaps alongside the houses".

Of course, back in those days folks were wise enough to make an effort to get the maximum use out of everything they had . . . and the lowly pumpkin was no exception. Some accounts actually report that early New England barbers — when they couldn't find a cap or bowl for the purpose — simply hollowed out a small pumpkin shell and fit it over the hair of a customer as a make-do shearing guide (hence the expression "pumpkin head").

And, as you'd imagine, pioneer cooks used the vegetables extensively: They dried the gourds and ground them into flour . . . they baked or steamed the shells and — after pressing the cooked pulp through a sieve and adding sweetening and spices — put up jars of pumpkin butter . . . and they prepared puddings and soups and wines and dozens of other dishes from the squash, as well. (In 1672, author John Josselyn reported in his journal, New England Rarities Discovered, that stewed pumpkin makes a nice accompaniment to "fish or flesh" but observed that the vegetable "provokes urine extremely and is very windy".)

9/26/2017 2:30:05 PM

Wonderful, valuable article. Love the historical information as well. Not to add to anything of real value to an already well written article, but there is one other limited preservation technique that us Halloween pumpkin carvers use that allows our pumpkin artwork to last at least 2-3 weeks before slowly deteriorating. Plain ol' cheap white petroleum jelly; doesn't have to be brand name Vaseline. Immediately after carving a design into the pumpkin, liberally coat the pumpkin with the petroleum jelly, inside and out and inside all cutouts. This not only deters bugs and insects from dining on your masterpiece, but keeps the pumpkin from drying out and withering by sealing in its moisture. Get a big jar and repeat coating as described about every 3 days, give or take depending on heat, humidity and sun exposure. And, no, petroleum coating does not interfere with lighting up your Happy Halloween pumpkin. CJ.D.

9/26/2017 8:13:22 AM

What an excellent article! I'd just been looking at the piles of pumpkins that have newly arrived at stores and grower's markets and was trying to think beyond past projects. This is a wonderful bounty of ideas - some I'd never have thought of. Thank you! I will share the wealth and more pumpkins will be saved from going to waste.

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