When pumpkins are taking the cure

October 12, 2016

In eastern Belgium there is a mineral spring that from about the 14th century has been visited for its curative properties. This mineral spring became so famous that its name, Spa, soon came to be generic for any healing resort. With the scourge of deadly tuberculosis (TB) doctor Edward Livingston Trudeau moved to the Adirondacks in 1876 to live out what he thought were his few remaining days in the crisp, clean beauty of the Adirondacks. 

But Dr. Trudeau didn’t die and found that his retreat cured his tuberculosis. Soon spas were built wherever there were springs and more and more people retreated to take the cure. 

Pumpkins and other squash need to be cured so they too will last a long time. Fortunately curing pumpkins doesn’t involve a trip to Warm Springs or Sharon Springs. 

Many Halloween pumpkins are picked as early as mid-August so are already a bit old by the time fall comes along. 

Your own homegrown pumpkins will tolerate light frost even if it kills the vines. Harder frosts will damage pumpkins so be sure to pick them before night temperatures drop below 27F. Unripe green pumpkins may ripen while during the curing process if they have been picked before hard frosts. 

Always be careful handling pumpkins so you don’t bruise or cut into the skin. 

It’s best to cut the fruit from the vine rather than just twisting it off. Use a very sharp knife or looping shears and be sure to leave a 3 to 6-inch stem. Not only will this stem make for more attractive pumpkins but it keeps out bacteria and fungus. Never lift a baby by the arms and never pick up a pumpkin by the stem. The weight of the pumpkin could easily break off or weaken the stem. 

Gently wash your pumpkins with slightly soapy water that has about one cup of chlorine bleach per half gallon of water. This will not only remove any dirt but kill the pathogens on the pumpkin rind.

Let the fruits dry completely before storing them. 

Cure your pumpkins at 80F-85F with relatively high humidity of around 80-85 percent for 10 days. During this time your pumpkins’ skin hardens, some small nicks or wounds heal and with luck your green immature fruit ripens. Once the pumpkins are cured you can store them out of the sun in a cool dry place. Place the pumpkins in a single layer so they aren’t touching each other. Never set them directly on a concrete floor. You can run a fan to keep the air circulating. 

It’s best to store pumpkins at 50F-55F and relative humidity of 50-70 percent.

Properly stored pumpkins will keep for months and you will have fresh pumpkin pies breads and soups well into winter. 

Never store pumpkins or squash near apples because apples release ethylene gas as they ripen and this will speed up the ripening in pumpkins, and decrease storage life. Check on your pumpkins regularly and quickly remove any that are rotten so they don’t infect the others. After all, the purpose of taking the cure is to defeat not encourage infection.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.