Autumn is peak pumpkin harvesting time. Whether you are picking your own home-grown pumpkins or grabbing a bargain at the farmers’ markets, knowing how to store pumpkins will allow you to enjoy fresh local pumpkins for months to come.
When selecting pumpkins to store, choose hard-skinned fruit that isn’t scratched or blemished and still has an intact stalk. Damaged skin and a missing stalk provide easy access for rot-producing organisms. A creamy coloured patch where the pumpkin has been resting on the ground is fine, but a sunburnt spot elsewhere is best avoided.
Pumpkins can be stored somewhere cool, dry and well-ventilated for months. They should be stored off the ground in a single layer, making sure that they are not touching each other. I’m storing mine on a timber bench and wire shelves in the shed. Storage life will vary, so it’s important to regularly check on your stored pumpkins, remove any rotting fruit and select those that should be eaten sooner rather than later.
If you are picking your own home-grown pumpkins to store, there’s a few extra considerations.
I’ve had plenty of practice picking pumpkins this year. My pumpkin vines enthusiastically took over my garden and I’ve harvested more than 50 pumpkins so far. Each visitor leaves our home with a pumpkin or two and I’m still laden with plenty of pumpkins that I’ll store and enjoy for up to six months.
Ensuring pumpkins are fully mature before they are harvested is important. Pumpkins that are picked too early will lack colour and flavour and will not store well. When the pumpkin stalk starts to dry and wither, the pumpkin is mature. The skin of a ripe pumpkin is also hard and will resist entry of a fingernail, and make a crisp sound when your fingernail breaks the skin.
Ideally, leave the pumpkins on the vine until the foliage withers. I tend to harvest early-season pumpkins before the vine withers rather than risk them rotting, and I leave the late-season pumpkins on the vine for as long as possible. Placing a timber board under pumpkins can decrease the risk of rot.
There is conflicting advice regarding the tolerance of pumpkin fruit to frost. Some say that frosts help to sweeten the fruit and harden the skin. On the other hand, I’ve read that heavy frosts can crack and damage pumpkins, making them susceptible to rot. I play it safe and make sure I harvest all ripe pumpkins prior to frost.
When harvesting, cut the stalk using a sharp knife or secateurs and leave at least 10centimetres of stalk on the fruit. The pumpkin will quickly deteriorate if the handle drops off, so avoid lifting the pumpkin by its stalk. I learnt this the hard way, after accidentally breaking the stalk off a handful of pumpkins. Be careful not to damage the vine if there are more pumpkins still on it, and handle pumpkins gently as bruises, scratches or cracks can also encourage rot.
Harvested pumpkins don’t need to be washed. Dirt can simply be brushed off after a few days of drying. Before storing pumpkins, it is important to cure them by leaving them in the sun for a week or two. Curing allows them to develop a tough, rot-resistant skin and improves their shelf life dramatically.
I’m looking forward to enjoying pumpkin aplenty over the coming months.
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 28th April 2014.