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‘Tis the season for pumpkins

photoDavis Latour, then 4, wonders how many pumpkins he can fit into a wagon during a field trip with his class from Sanders Corner Elementary School in Ashburn in October 2002. His father, Ken, commented, ‘He’s pretty industrious ... trying to rearrange the pumpkin patch.’ The class visited Pumpkinville on U.S. 15 south of Leesburg. Times-Mirror File Photo

  This time of year in Loudoun County is all about pumpkins. With Halloween a few days away and Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s the season of carving pumpkins and cooking with pumpkins. Most of us have carved a prize-winning Halloween pumpkin in the past, but how many of us have tried to cut up a pumpkin for the purpose of making a dessert or a meal?

  For Loudoun residents, there are some fun, family-friendly pick-your-own farms open on weekends through November: Pumpkinville at Leesburg Animal Park provides an all-day event with a hay maze and children’s play areas, Patowmack Farms in Lovettsville sells already picked pumpkins and other fresh produce, Ticonderoga Farms in Chantilly (just outside of Aldie) follows organic practices and has a haunted house at Halloween, and Great Country Farms hosts “Pumpkin Glow Nights” on Oct. 28 and 29 with more than 2,000 carved pumpkins displayed or illuminated.

  “Right now we have several varieties of pumpkins at the farm. Most folks like the ‘Sugar Pie’ variety for baking but the flat ‘Cinderella Pumpkins’ are very decorative and then very meaty for baking,” Kate Zurschmeide says.

  Founded by the Zurschmeide family in 2004, Great Countyr Farms will have greens, broccoli and lettuces until frost, perfect for Thanksgiving.

  “We are also working to connect with guests to pick an extra bag for donation to Loudoun Interfaith Relief to help share farm fresh produce with those in need in our community,” Zurschmeide says. “We are excited to be partnered with Interfaith and humbled by all they do.”

  Olwen Woodier, founder of Glenfiddich Cookery School just outside of Leesburg, buys her pumpkins from Great Country Farms. Started in February 2005 by Woodier, Glenfiddich is a 170-year-old former dairy farm and holds regular cooking classes and demonstrations. Woodier cooks down her pumpkin into a pumpkin puree for moist Pumpkin Gingerbread Muffins, perfect for a light fall snack.

  Here are some basic guidelines for finding that perfect pumpkin for cooking:

  1. Pick a fully-mature pumpkin, (pumpkins are ready when they turn their brilliant orange color) with a plan for short-term storage.

  2. Never pick up or carry a pumpkin by its stem, if the stem breaks off, the pumpkin could become infected and rot.

  3. Check the pumpkin well for soft spots and dark bruises. Once a pumpkin starts to rot, the entire pumpkin can rot pretty quickly.

  4. Once you are ready, cut the stem off, cut the pumpkin in half with a serrated knife and scoop out the seeds. Cover with water, and put in the microwave for 15 minutes or oven for 20-30 minutes until the pumpkin is soft.

  5. Scoop out the pumpkin and puree in a blender. If it is too watery, cook down on the stove top over medium heat (while stirring) until it is slightly thicker.

  Great Country Farms is open for pick-your-own April through October and on weekends in November from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., and located at 18780 Foggy Bottom Road in Bluemont. The phone number is 540-554-2073

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