Halloween: Beware The Bugs

Here's something new to be scared about on Halloween: pumpkin fungi. August's high temperatures and excessive rain have rotted some 20 percent of the crop from the Midwest to New England. Some tips to make sure you get a good gourd:

Buy early. The crop is smaller this year, so head for the pumpkin patch now.

Poke the skin. Look for a solid, smooth surface, with no soft spots or moldy areas.

Check the stem. It should be green and thick, not brown and shriveled.

Look for color. It should be bright orange. Yellow means it's not quite mature; brown or gray flecks show the pumpkin could be starting to decay.

At home, keep it away from sun, moisture and frost. And don't carve too early, or your jack-o'-lantern could fall victim to the great pumpkin massacre of 2006.

--Hilary Shenfeld