Do you still need to carve your jack-o-lantern for Halloween? Are you planning to decorate your porch or lawn with various sizes of pumpkins? Do you need funny-shaped gourds for each of your Halloween party attendees to paint? Come to Southwest Michigan! There are several patches and farm markets listed below where you can still find locally grown pumpkins. Here are 10 tips to help you pick the best one:
10 pumpkin picking tips
- Pick a pumpkin that is firm all over (no soft spots). Mushy is not good for carving or cooking.
- Choose one with a hard, firm handle. (A) It makes it easier to carry it out of the field to your car and (B) you want to be able to lift the lid to put the candle in after it is carved. Look for dark green or black stems. If the handle bends or breaks off, choose another pumpkin. However, if the handle-less pumpkin is still your favorite, take it home and instead of cutting the hole at the top, cut it at the bottom. You can then place your pumpkin over the candle or light source.
- Go with orange all over. If you want a traditional pumpkin (there are lots of other color choices), pick one that is orange from top to bottom.
- Leave the blemished pumpkins in the field or at the farm stand. Even small spots may mean a bug has burrowed its way inside. You really don’t want to reach into a bug-infested interior to pull them and the guts out.
- Watch for frost damage. Frost on the pumpkin sounds poetic, but it’s not good if you plan for your choice to last several days or weeks. Look around the top of the pumpkin. If it is dull or discolored, leave it behind. It’ll likely become food for area livestock.
- Round or oval pumpkins have their advantages. (A) They are easier to carve and (B) typically have more seeds inside for roasting. Yum!
- Pick a pumpkin with an easy-to-carve surface. That’s not to say that a bumpy or lumpy pumpkin should be avoided. Those have personalities. But you do want one with a flat bottom so it is not tipsy once you light the candle inside.
- Tap your choice before buying it. If you plan to cut through the walls of the pumpkin, tap it. If it sounds hollow, bring it home. However, if you are planning on cooking it not carving it, when you tap it, listen for a dull thud that indicates thicker walls. That means there is more flesh to add to your soups and baked goods. Bakers’ Advice: do not plan to eat your jack-o-lantern after you carved it – most pie bakers will tell you the flesh of carved pumpkins is too stringy.
- Be safe with young children. Hand them a paintbrush or marker, not a knife. Most kids (and their parents) are quite happy to paint their pumpkin rather than reach in and pull out the stringy, slimy fibers and slippery seeds or to try to follow a hand-drawn, intricate design with a knife. Admittedly, painted pumpkins don’t give off the eerie glow of a carved pumpkin.
- Bring a wagon. If the farm stand or pumpkin patch doesn’t offer one, bring your own (collapsible wagons are great). Your back will appreciate it and there’s less likelihood your prized pumpkin will smash if gravity wins on your way to your vehicle.
Where to find perfect pumpkins in Southwest Michigan:
Stover's Farm Market in Berrien Springs is easy to spot on M-139 with its Big Red Barn and smiling round bales of hay. There are lots of pumpkins and a variety of apples, squashes, jams, honey, maple syrup and more. The Stovers encourage you to take your time, enjoy the farm, hunt for arrowheads and look for wildlife while you are there.
Water Street Glassworks in Benton Harbor offers a beautiful alternative to the field variety of pumpkins. From now until mid-November you can pick a unique, “ripe” blown glass pumpkin from their patch in the Dorris Akers Gallery. These pumpkins are collectibles (new designs are blown every year) and they make an artsy display for Halloween through Thanksgiving as well as great gifts for holiday gatherings or weddings. 100% of your purchase will go to the non-profit Fire Up! teen program.
Happy pumpkin hunting!