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September 22, 2013

Pumpkins, gourds make attractive fall displays

MERIDIAN — Sept. 22 may be the first day of fall, but the best way to know summer is ending is to look at all the colorful pumpkin and gourd displays at local garden centers around the state.

    These displays are not only for Halloween. Fall harvest displays can add charm and interest throughout the season. What is more seasonally appropriate than using pumpkins and gourds along with fall-flowering mums and colorful mari-mums? Besides basic orange, pumpkin colors include red, yellow, white, blue and multicolored stripes. Pumpkins can be miniature, flattened, necked, smooth, winged and warty.

    There are hundreds of different varieties of pumpkin, squash and gourd, and pumpkin patches are springing up all over Mississippi. Let’s take a look at a few fall favorites.

    The Cinderella pumpkin is an heirloom variety that originated in France. This pumpkin has been a fall favorite since the late 1880s. If the shape seems familiar, think back to an old Disney movie you may have seen. Popular opinion is that this pumpkin variety was used as the model for Cinderella’s carriage in the classic animated film. The flattened shape also makes this a good stacking pumpkin.

    Not all pumpkins have smooth skins. One of the more interesting varieties is the peanut pumpkin, which is a cross between an unknown pumpkin variety and a Hubbard squash. This pumpkin has a warty surface that resembles peanuts. It is a great choice for adding coarse texture to any display.

    While the large pumpkins get the most attention, miniature pumpkins are very versatile. There are plenty of cute mini varieties, including some that are solid white, traditional bright orange, or white with orange, vertical stripes. Try displaying minis in big flowerpots or bowls. Mini pumpkins will keep all through the season sitting on the front porch.

    Why stop with pumpkins when there are interesting squash and gourds available for displays?

    Turban squash is a popular, hat-shaped variety that Native Americans grew. The bulb-like top makes a good fall decoration with its bizarre shape and multicolored stripes. This squash would make a fantastic centerpiece for any gathering of family and friends. Other good squash varieties for decorations include Hubbard and any of the winter squash.

    Gourds come in amazing varieties. Some of the more interesting have wings and warts, and the swan-shaped gourds are colorful and spectacular.

    Believe it or not, most are delicious when baked or made into a pie. A Bachman family favorite is homemade pumpkin seeds. After carving a jack-o-lantern, save and thoroughly wash the seeds. Toss with melted butter, sprinkle with sea salt and bake at 300 degrees until slightly toasted. It will be hard, but let the seeds cool and then enjoy.

    Be sure to inspect your pumpkins, squash and gourds before purchasing. They will last longer if there is no surface damage, and that includes pumpkins for carving before Halloween. To extend their usefulness, try painting scary faces on their surfaces instead of carving them. If you just have to carve a pumpkin, you can coat the cut surfaces and inside with petroleum jelly. This will help to seal and keep the flesh firm.

    Enjoy locally grown pumpkins, squash and gourds in festive displays this fall.

    • Dr. Gary Bachman is an assistant Extension research professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.

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