Do you like pumpkins? Not only for carving, but also for cooking? In the United States, pumpkins go hand in hand with the fall holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. An orange fruit harvested in October, this nutritious plant features flowers, seeds and flesh that are edible and rich in vitamins and minerals. Pumpkin is used to make soups, desserts and breads, and many Americans include pumpkin pie in their Thanksgiving meals. Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns is a popular Halloween tradition that originated hundreds of years ago in Ireland. Back then, however, jack-o’-lanterns were made out of turnips or potatoes; it wasn’t until Irish immigrants arrived in America and discovered the pumpkin that a new Halloween ritual was born.
There are numerous varieties of pumpkins, here are some of the most popular, classified by color and size:
Atlantic Giant Currently Atlantic Giants are the largest of the giant pumpkins. With proper care they can grow to over half a ton in weight. While they have the potential to grow to truly monstrous proportions more commonly they weigh in at several hundred pounds. Coloration for the largest pumpkins is usually cream to light orange but some growers have managed to coax a good orange color from them. The amount of sunlight seems to be the key.
Prizewinner One of the most attractive of the giant pumpkins, Prizewinner commonly grows up to 200 lbs. It is well rounded, light orange/yellow, and smooth with light ribbing.
Orange – Large and Medium
- Connecticut Field (Big Tom) Prior to Howden, Connecticut Field was the standard Halloween pumpkin. It’s a full sized pumpkin averaging 20-25 lbs. with slight ribbing and a solid orange color. Durable flesh is good for canning.
- Howden (Howden, Howden Field, Howden Biggie, etc) Howdens come in several closely related varieties and are, as a group, the commercial leader for jack-o-lanterns. They tend to be fairly large weighing greater than 20 lbs. and often up to 60. They often produce pumpkins that are more elongated than round, only lightly ribbed, and with a deep orange skin. Excellent choice for carving, sturdy stems.
- Orange – Small and Miniature
- Baby Bear Small, ~5″ in diameter, slightly oblate, smooth with slight ribbing. Good for cooking and decoration but not for carving.
- Jack Be Little 2-3″ diameter miniature pumpkins. Only passably edible but great for decoration, painting, crafts. Shallower ribs than the Munchkin variety. Like most miniature varieties these keep extremely well.
- Lil’ Goblin Small (~4″ diameter, 1 lb.), well rounded, very slight ribbing. Deep orange color. Good for painting and decor. Carving is possible.
- Munchkin Miniature pumpkin (~3″ diameter, ~2″ high, 1/4 lb.), flattened with deep ribs and sturdy stem. Not for cooking but excellent for decorating and other craft projects. Keeps extremely well.
- Sugar Pie Suitable for all uses, carving, painting, cooking, sweet flesh. 7″- 8″ diameter, 6 – 7 lbs.
- Sugar Pumpkin (New England Pie) Suitable for all uses, carving, painting, cooking it is best known as the King of pumpkins for pies with its dark, sweet flesh. ~6″- 8″ diameter, 5 – 8 lbs. Great seeds for roasting.
- We Be Little (Wee-Be-Little) Extra small, well rounded pumpkin variety with smooth skin and no ribbing. Used for decoration it ranges between 2″ – 5″ in diameter. Unlike smaller more decorative varieties these pumpkins are edible.
Baby Boo Bright white miniature, ~3″ pumpkin with deep ribs. Has a tendency to turn yellow in bright sunlight. Like many of the miniature varieties it keeps extremely well. Not edible but very attractive for decoration.
- Casper Brilliant white skin. More round than squat and with only slight ribbing. Sweet flesh is excellent for pies and baking. More suited to painting than carving.
- Lumin Brilliant white and normally smoothed skin. Bright yellow flesh. Highly valued for its flavor it is especially good for cooking. Can be carved or painted but does not keep well.
- White Ghost (Valencia) Pure white outside with a bright yellow flesh inside White Ghost pumpkins are good for painting, cooking, or general fall decorating. Their thick flesh and squat shape make them challenging to carve.
Cinderella (Rouge, Rouge Vif d’Estampes) In recent years the Cinderella variety of pumpkins has become quite popular here in the Bay Area although it was introduced to the US in 1883. It is rumored to have been the prototype for pumpkin carriage in the Cinderella folktale. Cinderella pumpkins are deep red to orange, flattened, and deeply ribbed. Excellent for decor they are difficult to carve. Good for stacking. Semi-sweet flesh is good for pies. Keeps very well.
Lakota Lakota is an heirloom variety from the American Midwest. Red with green/black markings following margins up from the base. Mostly pear shaped. Ranges from 5-7 lbs. Butternut-like flavor.
Blues and Greens
Blue Max Similar to the Jarrahdale but typically with less blue coloration. A Cross between an unknown pumpkin and a Red Hubbard this pumpkin is perhaps more squash-like than pumpkin-like. Richly warted red skin, sweet string-less flesh, perhaps better for eating than for carving. Very decorative. Grows up to 20 lbs.
- Jarrahdale (Ghirardelli Flattened like Cinderella but with a light blue/grey color. Deeply ribbed. This pumpkin is an Australian heirloom variety and was developed as a cross between the Blue Hubbard and the Cinderella. The flesh is golden yellow with a mild, only slightly sweet, flavor. Some say this is the best pumpkin for pumpkin pies.
- Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin, Ebisu, Delica, Hoka, Hokkiado Pumpkin) Kabocha is very popular in Japan and is produced in many nations for export to Japan. It has a very tough green rind which makes it difficult to carve but its sweet and nutty yellow flesh makes it an excellent choice for cooking. Flesh remains firm and holds its shape after cooking. Generally 2-3 lbs.
Banana Squash (Jumbo Pink Banana) The delicately pink on the outside and brilliant yellow inside Banana Squash is excellent for cooking and eating. Measuring two to three feet in length and weighing in between 10-50 pounds, it is perhaps too large for most fall table displays but well worth buying and preparing.
Butternut Butternut has the longest storage potential of all squash varieties. The longer you store it, the sweeter and nuttier the flavor becomes. Their flesh is orange, smooth-textured, and has a unique sweet flavor — particularly after 3 months storage. It will easily store in a cool, dry place through February. This squash is commonly used for pies and is terrific as a stand-alone entrée.
- Carnival Squash Mild flavored and versatile. Flavor is reminiscent of butternet and sweet potato. Gold colored flesh, thick skin. Light colored field with dark green or orange stripes.
- Delicata Squash (Sweat Potato Squash) The Delicata Squash is fast becoming a popular at upscale restaurants throughout the Bay Area. It’s well known for its delicate and sweet flavor. Storage is generally fair. Elongated, yellow in color with light ribbing and streaks of orange and green in the recesses.