Q. When pumpkin-picking with the kids, is there a trick to picking the best pumpkin?
A. There's more to choosing the perfect pumpkin than just good looks, says Steve Reiners, a professor of horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca.
Step One: "For a good, healthy pumpkin, what you want in a stem is something nice and firm; it doesn't have that give," Reiners says. A weaker stem indicates that the pumpkin may be beginning to rot and won't last as long. Reiners recommends kids -- and adults -- wear gloves while choosing their pumpkins for comfort. "The stem of a pumpkin can have tiny spines on it. They're barely visible, almost like a fiberglass effect," he says.
Step Two: Feel the entire pumpkin to make sure it's not soft anywhere, which also indicates the beginning of rot, Reiners says. If it's flat on one side from lying on the ground, that's OK, as long as it's firm, Reiners says. Unusual shapes are acceptable, as is a wartlike exterior -- perfect for a witch's face, he says. Color variations are fine as well, whether a deep orange or a lighter shade, he says.
"A good pumpkin could last six to eight weeks, even in the house," Reiners says. That's an intact pumpkin, of course, not one that's been made into a jack-o'-lantern. "Once you cut it, then it will rot very quickly. That's usually gone in five to seven days," he says. That's because, once the protective skin in compromised, bacteria and insects can get into the pumpkin.