By Jessica Merzdorf
September 26, 2012
Indiana's pumpkin crop for the most part has fared well despite the drought that has gripped the Midwest, and consumers should have an abundance of healthy pumpkins to choose from this autumn.
Initially, there were fears that the crop would not germinate properly because of the drought and heat, said Dan Egel, a Purdue Extension plant pathologist. But the pumpkins did germinate, and the dryness actually protected them from many of the diseases that afflict them in wetter years.
The most important diseases this year have been viruses, which have been more prevalent than normal, though not prevalent enough to be severe. Virus diseases cause a mosaic or dimpled pattern on the leaves and uneven ripening in the fruit, Egel said. "Usually, the fruit will go ahead and ripen and turn orange, but there might be green patterns mixed in with the orange, or maybe some dimples that you can run your hand over and feel."
Egel added that this variegation normally does not affect a pumpkin's carving quality. "Personally, I think the patterns caused by virus give the pumpkin individuality. Mild virus symptoms shouldn't affect the marketability of pumpkins."
Most American consumers buy pumpkins either to carve for decoration or to eat. Edible pumpkins, known as pie or sugar pumpkins, are typically smaller than a volleyball, but Egel advises consumers to ask their sellers if they are not sure which kind of pumpkin they are buying.
"For either type of pumpkin, I would run my hands over it to make sure there aren't any soft spots on it," Egel said. "Knock the dirt off and check carefully because a pumpkin with soft spots would definitely be one to pass on. You don't want that sitting on your porch."
A healthy pumpkin's stem should be as full and green as possible, rather than thin and brown. A green stem indicates a fresher pumpkin that was likely grown in the area. The color of the pumpkin itself, however, is up to the consumer.
"The neat thing about pumpkins is that they're all different, and you can pick one that suits your taste," Egel said. "You can pick white ones, yellow ones. I knew a little boy who came in and chose a nice green pumpkin. It's just what looks good to the consumer."