Coaxed by mild summer weather, pumpkins arrived a little ahead of schedule this fall. That’s good news for early-bird pumpkin hunters; plenty of good gourds are available now.
But don’t procrastinate this Halloween season; these squash may not hang around all October. If the weather gets soggy, pumpkin patches can get mushy.
Right now, the pumpkins are firm – and beautiful shades of orange. Or white. “Ghost” pumpkins are gaining in popularity among the scores of varieties available.
Like old-time tomato varieties, heirloom pumpkins are making a comeback, too. A prime example are Cinderella pumpkins; just add wheels and they look like they’re ready to pick up a mouse-size princess. Cinderellas actually are an heirloom French variety called “Rouge vif D’Etampes” (it means “vivid red of Etampes”) from an ancient farming community near Paris. Another French heirloom, deeply ribbed Fairytale (“Musque De Provence”) is even darker red-orange, turning almost mahogany when ripe.
Jack-o’-lantern experts suggest starting with a pumpkin that’s at least 10 pounds (bigger means a bigger jack-o’-lantern) with no soft spots. Carvers gravitate to Aspen, Ghost Rider, Howden, Happy Jack and Jumpin’ Jack. These pumpkins tend to have thick walls (better for carving) and sturdy stems, which make good handles on top.
Small pumpkins, used whole as decorations, push pumpkin season into November; they can double as Thanksgiving props. Ranging in size from 2 to 5 pounds, such varieties as Sugar Treat, Spooktacular and Baby Bear also are good for little hands to pick, carry and decorate.
Want big? Several local patches offer Big Doris, a hefty pumpkin that averages 20 to 40 pounds. Big Doris is not in the 1,000-pound Atlantic Giant league, but it doesn’t need a forklift to move.
As for the real gargantuans, you’ll find them this weekend at the 19th annual Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival. Set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday in Elk Grove Park, this free party celebrates really big pumpkins with lots of fun, including a pumpkin boat regatta, scarecrow contest and dozens of scale-busting pumpkins. The annual weigh-off starts at 9 a.m. today.
Or see potential record breakers Oct. 14 at Half Moon Bay’s 40th annual World Championship Pumpkin Pumpkin Weigh-Off. Last year’s winner set a new California record: 1,775 pounds.
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.