Fall is a wonderful season when the foliage and weather begin to change, and it's also a fun time to head out to the pumpkin patch and pick your pumpkins right from the vine. In addition to their use as jack-o-lanterns during Halloween, pumpkins can also be used in pumpkin butter, pies, cookies, breads, or just cooked as you would any winter squash. For an interesting presentation, try cooking a hearty stew in a pumpkin and serve it right in the "dish." You can also make a delicious pumpkin soup by scraping the pumpkin and adding heavy cream and seasonings. Don't forget to save the seeds for roasting.
Pumpkins are a fall vegetable, a member of the group known as winter squash. They start to ripen in September and October and are ready for harvest in time for Halloween. Most varieties are a distinctive orange and can be picked as soon as the pumpkin is uniformly colored and has a hard rind. If possible, harvest the pumpkins before a heavy frost. If the vines die, or other diseases assault your crop, pick the ripe fruit and store in a moderately warm place (between 50 and 55 degrees). Be sure to keep them dry.
When harvesting pumpkins, use a sharp knife and cut about three to four inches from the fruit to leave a distinctive stem. Not only is the stem a convenient handle for the top of your jack-o-lantern, it is also becoming a design element in pumpkin carving. Most importantly, pumpkins without stems do not store well. However, try to avoid carrying a pumpkin by the stem as this can cause the stem to fall off, damaging the fruit.
Make sure you get your crop in before the first hard frost. A light frost will kill the vines but not the fruit. This is the time to bring all the ripe fruit in. A hard frost will damage the fruit. Fruit that has been damaged or bruised, or harvested while immature, will not store well.