Pumpkin Secrets From TLC's 'Little People, Big World' Star

Running a business, managing a family, and maintaining a farm is a pretty big feat for any couple to take on. Add having your own TV show, charity foundation, and being marked as a "hero" for overcoming the odds, and it is enough to make your head spin. But Amy Roloff, half of that successful couple and the mom on TLC'S Little People, Big World, has risen to the occasion quite well. With the new season starting Oct. 29, the Roloffs are back with a season Amy promises will be a great one.

 "All of the kids were home and since they are older, family life changes a little more. A few more weddings that we've been able to share, and a few unknowns that you'll just need to watch to find out!"

No matter what role Roloff is playing, a huge passion of hers will always be her farm and the fresh ingredients she uses from it in her own kitchen. She recently sat down with us to chat about all things pumpkin and shared some great tips on using and choosing the right pumpkin for everything from décor to fresh recipes.

The Daily Meal: Tell me a little bit about your journey to being a pumpkin farmer and how it has changed you and your family's lives.
Amy Roloff: We moved to Oregon 23 years ago. First, we started out with keeping up the peach orchard that was already here. Then, we got into raspberries, and eventually pumpkins. We've been growing pumpkins for about 17 years, and the business has grown over the years.  A pumpkin crop seems easier to manage and much more family-orientated and friendly when people came out to get their pumpkins. Which, of course, I love — sharing the beauty and space we have loved on the farm for so many years. Of course, it has changed us because the farm is truly what unites and keeps us strong as a family.  We appreciate more about what other real farmers do and the hard work it takes to keep a family farm going. Plus, knowing where our food comes from is a plus, too — with our vegetable garden, eggs from our chickens, etc.

TDM: What is the best time to pick and carve a pumpkin for Halloween?
AR: I wish we could grow pumpkins all year long — but with a four-month (120 days approximately) growing time, maybe twice a year would be nice. Pumpkins, like most squash, will keep for a while if you store them in a cool dry place. I've had pumpkins I've picked in the beginning of October that are still good into November. However, once you carve it, it will start to decay after a few days, which is why we often wait until a few days before Halloween to carve them.

TDM: Do you have any useful carving tips?
AR: I'm a real simple carver. But during our pumpkin season we have a pumpkin carver who has come up with some really cool designs — a picture of Matt and I, a big "R" for Roloff, Halloween critters (i.e. cats, spiders, ghosts). I would call her very, very creative! Much more than I am, and she does it free-hand!

TDM:  How do you use pumpkins for your home décor?
AR: I have them placed around the outside of the house in groupings, on hay bales, with scarecrows, owls around, with fall leaves, sunflowers for decorations, and around my fireplace (without the fire going). The smaller ones we use for a table setting with fall leaf branches and candles. I am much more into the fall harvest than the scary Halloween decorations.

TDM: What was the best-looking pumpkin you and your family ever carved? Any funny memories or stories?
AR: The kids have often just done simple carvings and got more into the gooey stuff inside the pumpkins and the seeds. The scarier ones they thought they would carve usually ended up cutting away too much and would end up with only an eye or a mouth with one tooth. Sometimes, they would forget that we need "the top" and would discard that. My memories are how much we had fun carving but more so how messy we got. The farm gave us lots of space to do it outside.

TDM: How fast do you have to use a pumpkin after purchase? Can you freeze it?
AR: There are a number of varieties of pumpkins. The smaller ones, "pie pumpkins," are used more for baking and other dishes. The can purée is nice and convenient, but making your own purée for baking and cooking, I think is best. Or cut it up in chunks before roasting and then freezing it. Yes, you can freeze pumpkin — after you bake it. So cook it first.

TDM: How can you tell if a pumpkin's innards are rotted by looking at it?
AR: That is hard to tell sometimes really. Especially if the outside looks great with no soft spots, bruises, or dents and gives you that nice hollow sound when you tap it. Some ways are to make sure that around the stem is firm and hard as well as the bottom — no soft spots around these areas. If the stem feels a little soft or not stiff and the outside of the pumpkin looks good, that may give you an indication that the insides are beginning to go bad. It's almost like apples sometimes.

TDM: What are your day-to-day challenges for owning a farm? How involved are your kids in the process? Do they have favorite "jobs"?
AR: Matt handles a lot of the farm responsibilities and all of the rest of the family have helped out where we can. We do have several full-time farm workers that help us all year long. Yes, the kids do and have helped over the years. The boys' favorite activity/job is riding the tractor or digging/tilling and Molly and I love our greenhouse. The biggest challenge is making sure we have done everything possible to have a good crop. Did we plant enough since we can never expect a 100 percent perfect crop? Did we budget well enough? Will we make enough on the farm to sustain us to the next year? It's a business, and we think about that business every day. 

TDM:  What was/is your proudest moment on the farm?
AR: Raising my four kids on the farm and giving them a childhood to always remember so that they want to bring their own kids and continue to come back to the farm and help out when they can.

TDM:   What are you hopes for the future of the farm and for the show?
AR: I hope to always have the farm and maybe see if the kids would be interested in keeping it going. It's been not only a great place to raise our kids, but also a wonderful place to share with others. The show, TLC's Little People, Big World, has been a wonderful experience and opportunity. If it continues, then it means we still feel we have stories to tell and keeping it real.  I don't want to make a show where I'm one way on TV and completely different when I'm not on TV. We shall see; I would love to do more TV if the right project presents itself. 

Check out Amy's Nutty Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies Recipe!