Pick a perfect pumpkin

What's your idea of the perfect carved pumpkin? Before you get started, you need to pick the right pumpkin. But do you really know what makes a good pumpkin? Some tips on picking — and preserving — the perfect pumpkin:

1. Pick a pumpkin that is completely orange. Green spots mean that it can be easily bruised; they are also likely places for the pumpkin to start rotting.

2. Size does matter. Between 15 and 18 pounds is the ideal size for carving. Don't try carving a small pumpkin.

3. The pumpkin should be firm. If you press it with your thumbnail, it should make a little dent like cardboard. If you can push in fairly far, it's going to rot. Pick up your pumpkin from the bottom. It should feel heavier than it looks. One that feels light is probably rotted inside.

4. Slowly pick up a pumpkin by the handle to see whether it stays attached; if it does, it's a good pumpkin. Look for handles that aren't shriveled and are still dark green.

5. If the pumpkin is otherwise perfect but there's a notch, press around the notch; if it's soft, skip it because rot has set in.

6. Fresh field or Super Fresh? In the field, pumpkins have been sitting on the ground, which is fine. But if it has been rainy pumpkins start to rot. If you get them at the grocery store, they've been cured.

7. Once you have your perfect pumpkin, it's time to carve. Put petroleum jelly where you make your cuts. It prevents water loss (which will keep the pumpkin plumper for a little longer) and prevents rot from starting at the cut line.

8. Once carved, your pumpkin will last seven to 10 days. If you don't carve it, it could last a month or more. If there's a frost for a couple of days, consider bringing the pumpkin in to prevent rot.

10. If you want the pumpkin to last longer, use a battery-operated light to illuminate it. If you use candles, which can cause the pumpkin to decay more quickly because they burn so hot, sprinkle the bottom of the lid of your pumpkin with nutmeg. It'll make a nice aroma when the candle is burning. Of course, be sure to keep a careful eye on candlelit pumpkins, especially around kids and animals.

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