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This time of year is pumpkin picking season (well in the southern hemisphere). Home gardeners everywhere are bringing in their crop, and if you take a drive to the edge of town, I bet you will find a roadside store selling them too.
You may be wondering why you should store pumpkins at all. Well, there are several reasons for this. First of all, storing your pumpkins will allow you to enjoy them longer than just the growing season. Second, it helps prevent waste and enables you to use up your harvest by baking with them or making homemade pumpkin puree for pies and other recipes. Finally, if stored properly (in a cool place), pumpkins can last up to six months after they’ve been picked from their vines!
Storing pumpkins is an easy way to preserve and extend the harvest. This post is all about how to store them effectively so you can enjoy them throughout the year.
Types of pumpkins for storing
There are several types of pumpkins out there in the big bad world, and they vary in size and shape. When choosing a pumpkin for storage, you want to look for one that has a thick rind with no dents or holes in it. There should be no soft spots on the bottom of the pumpkin either; this means there’s less chance of rot developing once you’ve picked it up from storage.
The best varieties for storing include:
- Jarrahdale (aka Jap) pumpkins. These are some of the best pumpkins for storing. Their thick blue rind is dense with deep ribs and a smooth texture. It is an incredibly hard pumpkin and can keep for up to 2 years!
- Miniature pie pumpkins (Cinderella aka Musque De provence) – these are small but have dense flesh that makes them ideal for cooking into pies or soups; they also have high sugar content so they’ll keep well when stored over winter months
Pick them correctly!
Wait until the vines are dying. We don’t really get frost around here, but we certainly get some very cold mornings. When the vines are dead, it is also easier to see the pumpkins. I have read that a really big frost will damage the pumpkins, but usually the first frost of the season is fairly light. By waiting until the frost, you ensure maximum growing time.
When you do pick the pumpkins, use some secateurs to cut the stem at least 10 cm off the pumpkin, and leave the stem attached. Let the stem dry on the pumpkin and just leave it there until you are ready to use it. This helps to prevent the pumpkin rotting.
Of course if you are buying pumpkins, buy them with the stem attached if you can.
Avoid carrying the pumpkin by the stem so that it doesn’t snap off. In my case, Moose the Clydesdale stomps all over the overflow vines so we need to keep the ones still alive and attached to pumpkins out of his way!
Store them properly
Pumpkins store best off the ground, in a cool, dark, airy place. We use our shed. They will rot on the bottom if they sit on a solid surface such as metal. You can use some old wooden lattice to sit them on to allow air to flow underneath. I’ve also read that spreading a thick layer of straw or some cardboard underneath them can help (this works especially well when growing too, as the ground can get soggy and start to damage the pumpkin).
Store them in a single layer, rather than piling them up, as this will also encourage air flow. Move them around.
If they are really dirty, it is a good idea to give them a wipe down, but you want to keep them dry. A little dirt will brush off easily after a few days. You will find that pumpkins with a thicker skin will last longer.
Alternately, if you have an abundance of very ripe pumpkins, I would suggest steaming them or pressure cooking them so they’re soft, slightly mashing them when they cool (though you’ll be hard pressed to actually have to do this as they often just fall apart), and bag them in freezer proof bags or containers as is – no other seasonings added.
You can portion them smaller if you think you might use them more frequently. For example, if you want to use some in cake or muffins, maybe have smaller portion sizes for those recipes so you avoid taking out a huge bag that you later don’t or can’t use. Alternately I always store mine with the intent of soup first, and anything left over will go into a moist cake batter, muffins, pumpkins, waffles and even soap!
Storing pumpkins for short-term use
If you’re not sure if you’ll be able to use your pumpkins before they begin to rot, here are some tips for storing them in the refrigerator:
- Keep them cool and dry. If possible, store them at temperatures between 0-4c. The lower end of that range is ideal because it will slow down the growth of mold spores. If you don’t have a basement or other cool place where these temperatures are likely to occur naturally, place your pumpkins in an unheated garage or shed instead.
- Ventilate well when storing pumpkins in plastic bags or containers with lids–the more air circulation around them, the better!
Storing Pumpkins for Long-Term Use
- Drying: Dried pumpkin can be used for crafts and decorations, or ground into a powder for baking.
- Freezing: This is a great way to preserve the flavor of your pumpkins throughout the winter months. The best part about freezing them? You can use them straight from the freezer when you’re ready to make something delicious!
- Canning: If you have access to a pressure canner (a special pot that uses steam pressure), this is an excellent way of preserving your pumpkins in jars so they’ll last even longer than frozen ones would–upwards of two years!
- Preserving: This process involves removing moisture from foods using salt brine, vinegar brine or oil immersion methods like pickling or fermenting; it also helps prevent spoilage due to bacteria growth by lowering pH levels inside each cell structure within each vegetable being preserved through these methods respectively.”
- Freeze drying: by freeze drying pumpkin you can opt to turn it into a powder for reconstituting later or in cubes and chunks. My fave is turning excess fruit and vegetables into powder as instant add-ins in casseroles and meat dishes, or in the case of pumpkin and tomato – soup!
If you are storing your pumpkins for a long period of time, you may want to check them periodically for signs of rot. Rotted pumpkins will be soft and brown on the inside and have an unpleasant odor. Mold can also be a sign that your pumpkin has begun to rot, as well as mildew if it’s been stored in damp conditions for too long.
Rotten or moldy pumpkins should be thrown away immediately so they don’t infect other healthy ones in your storage area. If there are pests on or near your stored pumpkins (such as mice), remove any affected fruit immediately before they spread their damage throughout your collection!
Extending the growing season
If you’re growing pumpkins and want to store them longer than a growing season, there are some things you can do.
If your climate is warm enough for seeds to sprout in the spring, try planting them in late summer or early fall. The seeds will germinate quickly and produce strong plants that will set fruit before frost hits again.
If you live in an area with cold winters where it’s hard for pumpkin plants to survive through the winter months, consider starting new plants each year from seedlings instead of saving seeds from previous years’ crops. This way you’ll get fresh stock every year without having to worry about how old your seeds are or whether they’ve been stored properly over time (which may affect their viability).
Using stored pumpkins
To prepare your pumpkin for cooking, baking or carving:
- Cut off the top of the pumpkin with a sharp knife and remove all seeds and strings from inside with a spoon or ice cream scoop. You can also use an empty milk carton to scoop out the seeds and strings!
- Wash off any dirt that’s still on your pumpkin with warm water, then pat dry before using it in recipes (or decorating).
- Pumpkin pie
- Spiced pumpkin soup
- Roasted pumpkin seeds (a great snack to have on hand during the winter)
- Pumpkin bread
Saving pumpkin seeds
Wait! Don’t throw out those remnants yet! First, I hope you’re giving your scraps either to your chooks or to your worm farm or other compost system. And second…you better not have thrown those seeds out!
Saving seeds is a fantastic way to reproduce your favourite vegetable and get seeds you know have been treated well. Especially if you have put in the time and effort to naturally farm with no pesticides, then you want to save your seeds.
There are a number of things to do with seeds. Save them for next years harvest, get involved in your local community garden or seed exchange and swap your seeds for some other seeds, or dry them to eat them (but beware, salty pumpkin seeds are addictive!)
For me, the best way to save pumpkin seeds is to wash the membrane off the seed well, and then let it dry on a slightly damp paper towel. You don’t want it to dry out and stick to the paper towel because it will be awful to remove. That said, spreading them out on a single layer on a paper towel is great for the first bit of drying that occurs. When its no longer wet to touch, I pop the seeds into a bowl and put it on the window sill.
Every few hours I go and swish them around as they’re drying so they don’t stick to each other. When fully dry, which I often leave for a couple days, I then pop them in a paper bag and write the description down and the date I started storing it.
Storing pumpkins is a great way to save money, as well as help out your local farmers. If you’re planning on storing pumpkins for the winter, here are some helpful tips:
- If you’re going to store them in your basement or garage, make sure that it’s cool and dry. You may want to put a dehumidifier in the room where you plan on storing them so that mold doesn’t grow on them while they’re sitting there over time (or even worse–decay).
- Don’t store them near apples or bananas–they’ll produce ethylene gas which will cause other fruits/vegetables nearby them in storage containers become soft and rot faster than normal!
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Got any pumpkins? How do you keep yours?