How do you harvest and decorate gourds?
According to Karen Gast, an Extension horticulturist with Kansas State University, gourds are ready to be picked when the vines die back and the skin is not easily punctured by a fingernail.
The ideal way to harvest a gourd is with a sharp knife or shears. Pick only disease-free, mature gourds and leave 1 inch to 2 inches of stem. Then wash gourds in warm, soapy water to remove dirt and debris. Don't use a brush to clean the gourds it will probably scratch the tender, uncured skin.
Gourds must cure for two to three weeks in a warm, dark, dry place with good air circulation. They should be turned every day. Once gourds are dry, they can be polished with a soft cloth and paste wax or dipped in a 1-to-1 solution of shellac and denatured alcohol.
Painting and wood-burning are popular ways to decorate gourds. Acrylic paints work best. They are permanent and clean up with water. Painting and wood-burning should be done before gourds are shellacked.
How do you prepare gourds to use as birdhouses?
To make birdhouses, gourds need to be dried until the seeds are loose and rattle inside. Once they are dry, they can be sanded, polished, shellacked and cut to create birdhouses.
How are luffa gourds made?
Luffa gourds should be harvested after a hard frost and can be processed two ways, according to Gast.
The first method begins with drying. Dry luffa gourds until the seeds are loose and rattle inside. Then remove the outer covering, cut off the ends, shake out the seeds and free the inner sponge.
Another method is to soak the gourds in water until the outer covering and pith soften. When the gourds are thoroughly softened, remove the covering and pith by rubbing gourds together or with a brush.
Sponges should be washed through several changes of clean water, soaked in a mild bleach solution and dried.
Dry luffa gourds can be used as scouring pads, bathing sponges or cleaning tools.
The bleach solution and good air circulation should keep mold and fungal growth away. But if it becomes a problem, mold stains can be lightened by scrubbing with a strong bleach solution.
How do I keep a decorated pumpkin from rotting so quickly?
According to Chuck Marr, a K-State Extension horticulturist, selection is the first thing to consider.
When selecting a pumpkin, if you can stick your fingernail through the rind, it isn't set. That means the pumpkin will dry out. If the rind is tough, the pumpkin isn't likely to dry as quickly.
Leave the stem on so that water won't collect in the area and begin to rot the pumpkin.
Once the pumpkin is carved, there are few ways to make it last longer. The minute you carve it, two things start to happen. First, it begins to shrivel; second, it can begin to rot especially if temperatures are warm.
Marr recommends wiping the cut surfaces of the pumpkin with a disinfectant, such as Lysol or a 10-to-1 water-and-bleach solution, to keep pumpkin-rotting bacteria at bay.
Other ways to extend the life of carved pumpkins include spreading petroleum jelly on cut surfaces to prevent drying and soaking shriveled pumpkins in cold water.
Even with the best preservation efforts, a carved pumpkin probably won't last longer than a week.
Can pumpkin seeds be roasted?
Yes. In fact, pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, iron and magnesium.
According to the American Snack Food Assn., Americans eat about 1.6 million pounds of pumpkin seeds each year. That is an increase of more than 700,000 pounds since 1990.
To make your snack, rinse the seeds to separate them from the pumpkin flesh and "strings." Sprinkle salt on the moist seeds or soak them for an hour in a brine of 1 cup salt in 1 quart water.
Place the seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast at 375 degrees for 40 minutes to 45 minutes. Seeds are done when they turn brown. Smaller seeds will roast faster and should be checked after 30 minutes.
Can pumpkin pulp be cooked?
Definitely. To prepare the pulp for cooking, remove the seeds and stringy portion. Place the pulp in an ovenproof baking dish, cover and bake in a 325-degree oven until tender, about 45 minutes to 60 minutes. Cool and mash or put through a ricer, strainer or blender.
Pumpkin pulp can also be steamed or cooked in boiling water. Cook the pulp, covered, in a small amount of water for 25 minutes to 30 minutes or until tender. (Because pumpkin is a watery vegetable, a large amount of cooking water is undesirable.) After cooking, drain the pulp, mash it well and place it in a strainer or colander to remove any excess liquid.
Once the pumpkin has been mashed or put through a ricer, it can be used in your favorite pumpkin recipe.
A 5-pound pumpkin will yield approximately 4 1/2 cups of mashed, cooked pumpkin. However, the pulp from a jack-o'-lantern will not yield as much due to the fact that a fair amount of pumpkin remains in "jack."
Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.