Halloween is just around the corner, and pumpkin season is here. Most everybody is familiar with the standard orange pie pumpkin and its thinner-walled cousins that are carved into jack-o'-lanterns.
But the pumpkin world is a diverse place, and if you're looking to expand from your usual orbit, it might be helpful to have some guidance. We asked growers at White's Country Farm in Medford and Seven Oaks Farm in Central Point for some tips about picking just the right one.
"Check the entire pumpkin for soft spots and open wounds," which can promote rot and should be avoided, says Linda Medeiros, owner of White's Country Farm.
"The pumpkin should be clean and dry," she says, "and the stem should be intact, not moist or mushy."
Size, shape, color and texture are strictly a matter of personal preference, say both Medeiros and Doreen Bradshaw, owner of Seven Oaks Farm.
If you're looking for maximum impact, try a Prizewinner pumpkin, says Doreen's husband, Don Bradshaw. "They can easily reach 250 pounds," he explains.
Other varieties he points out during a tour of his farm include the Cinderella, a wide, flattened, deeply ridged pumpkin that usually weighs in at around 25 pounds. Another, aptly named Snow White, is a luminescent ivory.
One particularly intriguing hybrid at Seven Oaks Farm puts out a deep reddish-orange fruit that's covered with warty growths. Another, the Wolf pumpkin, has a symmetric shape, smooth skin and sturdy handle, which makes it a favorite for painting.
Don has a special fondness for not-quite-ripe pumpkins — the green mottling is "great for creating witches," he says.
"Don't limit yourself to just pumpkins," Don continues. "There are all kinds of interesting squash and gourds that can also be carved or displayed."
Blue hubbard, a gray-blue winter squash with a hard rind, is especially good for fall displays. And the Cushaw, an elongated white squash with green or orange stripes, is both pretty and edible.
Doreen Bradshaw, who creates all of Seven Oaks' fall displays, offers up some tips for decorating the perfect pumpkin.
"For carving, choose one that's slightly elongated," she says. "They're easier to cut, and the candle sits too low in the really round ones." Tradition calls for at least one jack-o'-lantern with a wide, gaping mouth and triangular eyes. But commercial stencils are available, too, for those who desire a more unusual look.
Another fun way to display carved pumpkins is to remove the top and hollow it out, then put a jar of water and a bouquet of mums or zinnias inside.
One thing to remember, though, is "pumpkins don't last long after they're cut," she says.
Carve yours a few days before Halloween and discard it as soon as it starts to get mushy. "If you're going to be displaying it outside, keep it off the ground. The damp earth will make it spoil faster," Doreen Bradshaw says.
Painted pumpkins and gourds last a lot longer than their carved counterparts. Use acrylic paint to create a face or another design. Doreen likes to paint leaves and vines on hers.
"You can display them until Thanksgiving that way," she says. Pumpkins and gourds can be shellacked to make them last even longer and add shine. Try stacking them on top of each other to make a totem pole. They can be left as-is or decorated. Medeiros likes to decorate her pumpkins by sticking on bits of faux fur and feathers. "I like them to be as outrageous as possible," she says.