By Abigail Martin
Scary teeth or cute eyes? A big nose or no nose? These decisions help decide the face, and the fate, of my jack-o’-lantern each year. Since I was young, I have always taken my time when carving pumpkins to ensure I get it just right. After all, Halloween and the corresponding holiday traditions only come around once a year!
Each October, my family and I gather on the kitchen floor to carve our pumpkins. These are some of my most cherished memories from growing up, and to this day, I have not missed a year of carving.
Before the carving can begin, we must choose a pumpkin. My favorites are the tall, skinny pumpkins — they make the best canvases. Next, the tops must be cut off, so the gutting can commence. In this step, the slimier your hands get, the better!
While removing the stringy guts of our pumpkins, we always separate the seeds, and you should, too. Roasted pumpkin seeds are easy to make and are a great snack food. According to the American Heart Association, pumpkin seeds are high in fiber and magnesium, both of which aid in heart health. Once you’ve scooped the seeds out of your pumpkin, soak them in water for a few hours to help remove the pulp from the shells. Then, add light spices and roast the seeds on a cookie sheet on the top rack of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.
The interior of a pumpkin is also edible (think pumpkin pie, bread and soup), though different varieties are typically grown for eating versus decoration.
Interestingly, in early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling. Colonists sliced off pumpkin tops, removed seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin of pumpkin pie. Like many households, pumpkin pie is a family tradition for me in the fall, and always graces our Thanksgiving table.
Making new memories
Last year, my family inadvertently started a new pumpkin tradition. The previous fall, after our jack-o’-lanterns dried out, we threw them on the edge of our tall grasses. Then come spring, my mom wanted to clear out some of the brush, so my dad tilled up the area.
Little did we know, the pumpkin seeds had survived and were now planted. As the summer progressed, it became apparent that we were now in the pumpkin-growing business! I enjoyed watching our fruits grow and change over the summer, and I was excited for harvest in the fall.
Pumpkins are typically ready for harvest three to four months after planting. When it is harvesttime, their skin should be hard enough that you can’t poke a hole with your fingernail. It is important for the longevity of the pumpkin to leave 3 to 4 inches of stem when harvesting. Some varieties of pumpkin have sharp spines on their stems, so it is a good idea to wear gloves.
In 2017, Wisconsin harvested 900 acres of pumpkins. Each year, when October rolls around, I am grateful for our Wisconsin pumpkin growers. The fruits of their labor are intertwined so closely with traditions of carving jack-o’-lanterns, roasting seeds and eating pumpkin pie with my family. This season, be sure to pick your pumpkins from a Wisconsin grower, and enjoy the challenge of carving the “perfect” face for your pumpkin.
Martin is the 72nd Alice in Dairyland.