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From carving to cooking: the pursuit of the perfect pumpkin

We all know Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers, but when it comes to picking the perfect pumpkin at Perry Farms which perfect pumpkin would Peter Piper pick?

Perry Family Farms, an organic pumpkin patch in Fremont. (Tara Nelson)
Perry Family Farms, an organic pumpkin patch in Fremont. (Tara Nelson)

It is not as simple as one would think.

There are over 50 varieties of pumpkin with names ranging from Spooktacular, Funny Face, Buckskin, Atlantic Giant, and Rouge Vif d’Estampes (better known as the Cinderella pumpkin). Some varieties, such as the Trick or Treat and Triple Treat, are better for carving while others like the Green-Striped Cushaw are best for pureeing into pies.

At the J.E. Perry Organic Farms in Fremont, Calif., families grabbed rusted wheel barrels and wagons and set out on a quest for the perfect pumpkin.

“Those are all the little ones,” said Jimi Vargas, 3, to his mother Jita Vargas, pointing to the south end of the muddy pumpkin field.

“He likes the little ones because he is little,” laughed Vargas, following as Jimi pulled his radio flyer wagon with both hands zig-zagging back and forth across the pumpkin patch.

“Mostly I like all those ones,” said Jimi, pointing to the three little pumpkins he had placed in his wagon.

Melissa Perry, of the Perry farming family, was on hand to help with the hayride and giant hay pyramid. She also knows her stuff when it comes to pumpkins. “It doesn’t matter if it is deformed or lopsided, you need to look for pumpkins that have a good stem (two to three inches) and no cuts. After you cut into them they won’t last more then a week or so,” she said. “If you don’t cut into them, they can last months. Some people tell us they have lasted up to a year.”

Pointing to the mini pumpkin placed on the counter with a small half moon shaped slice in it, she said, “That one has about a week of life left.”

The prices at the Perry Organic Farm range from $6 for small pumpkins to $10 for larger sizes. They also have giant pumpkins priced individually by the pound and mini-pumpkins for $1. The farm is one of the few pumpkin patches in the Oakland area.

A girl pulls her pumpkin across Perry Farms Oct. 21.
A girl pulls her pumpkin across Perry Farms Oct. 21.

While most people tromping through the muddy pumpkin patch were looking for pumpkins to carve into Jack-o-Lanterns, some were actually looking to get started early on aking holiday treats.

“Not all pumpkins are good to eat. Small sugar pie pumpkins are good for pumpkin pies,” said Perry. One average-sized pumpkin can make a pie. Pumpkins are a good source of vitamin A and can also be used in recipes from hearty winter soups to sweet cinnamon and brown sugar pumpkin souffles.

According to Drusila Banks, a professor in food science and nutrition at the University of Illinois who co-created the colleges popular Pumpkins and More website , pumpkins are an underutilized nutritional resource.

“Sadly the most popular use of pumpkins in this country is for decorating at Halloween and the second would be pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving time. Not so in other countries like Mexico where pumpkin is used in many traditional foods. Maybe we need more interesting ways to use pumpkin in meals,” said Banks.

Pumpkins are diverse and can be used in all kinds of recipes from hearty winter soups to sweet cinnamon and brown sugar pumpkin souffles.

Banks explained Pumpkins also are high in Beta Carotene, an important antioxidant.

“Mother Nature colored beta carotene orange-yellow. It exists that way in all our foods…nutrition follows color in most fruits and vegetables, so we should be eating the colors of the fall” said Banks.

But for the mostly under-10 crowd scampering around Perry Farms, the quest was less about taste and more about finding the best pumpkin for the front porch.

“I found the perfect one,” said a young girl dressed in a blue plaid pleated uniform.

“Perfect for you,” said her friend Lala, 8, trudging on towards the open field. “But I am still looking.”

And with that, she dragged her rusted red wagon up and down two more rows. She yelled a few minutes later, “Found it!”

Created with flickr slideshow.