Halloween is coming soon and that means it's time to visit the pumpkin patch. Whether you're selecting pumpkins for carving or painting elaborate designs, harvesting pie pumpkins, or collecting and roasting the seeds, get ready for some fun with pumpkins.
The first step to successful pumpkin carving is picking out the perfect pumpkin. Select one that is completely colored (orange, red, or white), has hardened skin that isn't easily pierced with a fingernail, and has at least 2 inches of stem still attached. Wait until right before Halloween to carve it because a carved pumpkin will rot quickly.
For younger children who shouldn't be handling sharp knives, painting pumpkins is an engaging option. Select waterproof markers or paints. To give kids a variety of decorating options, have glow in the dark paint, stickers, glue, and natural materials such as ornamental grass heads and small carrots available.
For kids old enough to tackle more elaborate designs, commercially available pumpkin carving kits contain designs and a variety of tools.
While cleaning out a pumpkin to carve, save the seeds for roasting. Soak them in cold water removing any pieces of pulp and rotted or hollow seeds. Mix 1 tablespoon of butter or vegetable oil per cup of seeds and place the seeds, one layer thick, on a cookie sheet. Roast them in a 300° F oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Salt the seeds as desired. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator, if there are any leftover!
Most of the pumpkins you'll find in grocery stores and farmer's markets are bred for decorating. They have thin walls and somewhat hollow centers. If you want to cook a pumpkin, look for pie pumpkins, such as 'Small Sugar'. These types have thick flesh and a sweeter, softer texture. Winter squash varieties, such as 'Early Butternut', also make excellent pies.
Q. Do you have any tips on growing hot peppers indoors, including how to encourage good-sized peppers with plenty of heat?
A. If you have a greenhouse, you can pot up pepper plants from your garden and bring them indoors. They'll continue to produce, though more sparingly, into the fall. You can try to keep peppers indoors over the entire winter, however by spring they're usually pretty ragged-looking. Cut them back, plant them outside, and they'll sprout new growth.
If you don't have a greenhouse, try growing peppers under grow lights. The lights will keep the peppers alive and producing, but the fruit size and quality won't compare with growing them outdoors. Also, the pungency (heat) of hot peppers is greatly influenced by air temperature. Warm up the room for more pungent peppers.