This week we have seen the first signs of fall with the appearance of cooler weather. Fall is my favorite time of year. This is also the time of year when the kid in me comes out with the sight of pumpkins for sale. I have always enjoyed carving pumpkins, and even though I do not have kids myself, I still carve a pumpkin every year to display on my porch. As a matter of fact, I purchased my first pumpkins for decoration in my office just the other day. The search for the perfect pumpkin has become almost as important as finding the perfect Christmas tree. Just ask my boyfriend. It is a good thing that pumpkins come in many shapes and sizes, because peoples preferences vary.
The name pumpkin originated from pepon, the Greek work for large melon. The name pepon was eventually changed to pumpkin by American colonists. Native Americans dried strips of pumpkins and wove them into mats. They also roasted strips of pumpkin for food. American colonists sliced off pumpkin tips, removed the seeds and filled the inside with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin for our pumpkin pie.
So how do you find that perfect pumpkin? The majority of pumpkins for sale are gown in the northern part of the country. Georgia grows about 600 acres of pumpkins a year and the number is rising. Most pumpkins grown in Georgia are grown in the Northern part of the state. Plant viruses and insect pressure have made growing pumpkins in Georgia difficult, but in recent years new varieties have been developed by UGA that show promise to disease resistance.
Great pumpkins can be found at roadside stands, local grocers, local supermarkets or at local farms. My choice is at local farms. I enjoy walking in a field of pumpkins to find that perfect one. There are things that you want to look for in a pumpkin. Check for moldy area or soft spots. The stems should be green and securely attached. Mature pumpkins are dull to bright orange in color. After you purchase the pumpkin, keep it in a dry and cool place, but do not allow it to freeze. Pick pumpkins before frost and leave 3-4 inches of the stem. To help the pumpkin last through Halloween, do not carve until a few days before the event.
The tradition of hollowed out pumpkins originated in Ireland and Scotland, where they carved scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placed embers or candles inside. In England, beets were used. Immigrants to America brought the tradition with them, but they replaced the root vegetables with pumpkins, which were native to the New World. I am glad pumpkins were native to America. How would you like to carve a turnip, potato or a beet?
Have you ever wondered why carved pumpkins are called jack-o-lanterns? If you come by and visit the extension office I will tell you.
Source: UGA Extension Publications
Dates to remember
OCT. 9: Walk Georgia registration deadline.
OCT. 3-13: Georgia National Fair, Perry-Ask a Master Gardener Booth in Heritage Hall, demonstrations daily
OCT. 15-17: Sunbelt Ag Expo, Moultrie-www.sunbeltexpo.com
Charlotte Mote is the Houston County agricultural and natural resources agent. Contact her at 478-987-2028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.