Canning, Cooking, or Jack-o-Lantern?
Learn how to select the best pumpkins and gourds with this buying guide.
While you sip on that pumpkin spice latte, consider these unusual and fun pumpkin facts about your favorite fall produce.
- Pumpkin contains potassium and Vitamin A.
- The tradition of pumpkin carving originally started with the carving of turnips. When according to Irish folklore, a man called Jack O’Lantern was sentenced to roam the earth for eternity. When the Irish immigrated to the U.S., they found pumpkins plentiful and much easier to carve for their ancient holiday.
- The flowers are edible.
- The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds.
- In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.
- Six of the seven continents can grow pumpkins including Alaska! Antarctica is the only continent that they won’t grow in.
- The pumpkin is really a squash. It is a member of the Cucurbita family which includes squash and cucumbers.
- Native Americans called pumpkins “isqoutm squash.”
- The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for “large melon” which is “pepon.”
- The current world record is held by Mathias Willemijns who grew a pumpkin that weighed in at 2,624.6 pounds (October 9, 2016)
Pumpkins haven’t always been as popular as they are today. In fact, pumpkins were hardly eaten by people for a considerable part of the 19th century. Hard to believe considering pumpkin spice (see recipe) seems to take over our taste buds every fall season. Think of how far this humble gourd has come, when this fall season you snack on your favorite pumpkin treat and sip that pumpkin spice latte. While all pumpkins are edible, the larger ones tend to be stringy and flavorless. However, the seeds are still good and many say the roasted seeds are the best part. I say the pie part is the best! The Mini Pumpkin Pie Tart and Pumpkin Cheesecake parts, too.
Depending on the variety, pumpkins can range in size anywhere from tiny to humongous. Selecting which pumpkins you’ll carve for your Halloween Jack-O’-Lanterns depends on what you want to carve on them. While medium-sized ones work best for most of the stencils that you can buy, very large pumpkins can be carved with more elaborate designs. Small pumpkins work great for carving traditional faces and can be carved fast so that you can have a lot of them lined up for lighting sidewalks and pathways or scattered about parties and other spooktacular events.
Once you decide what designs you will be carving into them, make a mental idea of the shapes and sizes of pumpkins you’ll need. Should it be tall and narrow, squat and misshaped, or more rounded? Whatever the shape always select pumpkins that are uniformly orange meaning that they are ripe with have no bruises, cuts, or nicks. If you will be using a stencil select a pumpkin that is close to the size and shape of your stencil. It should also be as smooth as possible, and free of scratches, dents or gouges.
Never carry a pumpkin by its stem; it may break off. If the stem does break off, toothpicks can be used to hold it on. If this happens, you can carve the bottom out for the opening the same way you would do the top. Then, you just place your light source on the cleaned bottom piece and set the carved pumpkin over it. Works great and you don’t need the stem for a lid handle! Now, it’s time to decide on which variety you want to purchase. Here’s the list of the varieties we found:
Standard Orange Variety:
Grows between 2 to 5 pounds
Baby Bear (small, flattened shape; fine stem)
Baby Pam; Oz (hybrid, very smooth skin, immature yellow color)
Small Sugar or New England Pie (the standard pie type) Flesh is thick, deep yellow, fine-grained, and has a delicious sugar flavor.
Spooktacular (hybrid; bright orange; ribbed)
Sugar Treat (hybrid; bright color)
Grows between 8 to 15 pounds
Autumn Gold (hybrid, yellow when immature)
Frosty (hybrid; smooth-textured skin)
Funny Face (hybrid)
Harvest Moon (hybrid)
Jack-o-Lantern (heirloom) This round to oblong pumpkin has been bred for making Jack O’ Lanterns, but its flesh makes delicious pies, soups, and muffins, too.
Montana Jack Uniform shape, perfect for carving or pies. Normally the first pumpkins to come out of the field.
Spirit (hybrid, semi-bush)
Young’s Beauty deep orange and slightly ribbed, It’s very thick, meaty interior flesh that is perfect for pies or carving.
Grows between 15 to 25 pounds
Aspen (hybrid, deep orange, uniformly large)
Big Autumn (hybrid, yellow when mature)
Big Tom also know as Connecticut Field
Connecticut Field (the old standard) The perfect shape and it’s flat bottom comes in handy for making a jack o’lantern. Also, excellent for animal feed but not pumpkin pies.
Ghost Rider (dark orange; very dark green stem)
Happy Jack (uniform, dark orange)
Harvest Jack (dark orange; long stem)
Howden Field (the industry standard for the last 20 years) one of the best pumpkins for Halloween carving. This is the one you see at the grocery store. Excellent for pies or roasted seeds, too.
Jackpot (hybrid; round)
Jumpin’ Jack (large, dark orange, heavy, tall)
Ol Zeb’s (heirloom) variety perfect for baking or carving
Pankow’s Field (large, variable pumpkins with exceptionally large, long stems).
Rouge Vif d’Estampes (deep red-orange, flattened, heavily sutured) It was the prototype for Cinderella’s carriage pumpkin and is also known as “Cinderella” pumpkin.
Types for Canning and Cooking:
Dickinson Field sweet orange high-quality flesh for canning and pies (pumpkin of choice for Libby’s canned pumpkin)
Kentucky Field One of the best canning pumpkins around.
Jarrahdale (heirloom) has a slate blue, ribbed exterior and a deep, delicious orange interior flesh that is dry, stringless, and sweet with a complex flavor.
Winter Luxury (old variety, good for cooking; unique netted skin) Thick flesh and small seed cavity
Musquee De Provence The flesh of this beauty is deep orange, thick, dry and has a very rich complex flavor.
Fairytale (heirloom) Perfect for pies or stands up well in chunks for curry or cream sauce recipes.
Jumbo: Grows to 50 pounds and larger
Atlantic Giant (most true giants come from this variety) Averaging 400 to 500 lbs this is the pumpkin you see on the news around Halloween that takes a forklift to move.
Big Max Get this one if you want to carve the biggest pumpkins on the block or make tons pumpkin pie
Big Moon Add to your garden for a dramatic fall decorating touch. The tender flesh can be used for baking.
Mammoth Gold Great for carving.
Prizewinner Ideal for County Fairs and Exhibitions
Show Winner These giant pumpkins develop in an array of colors, including orange, yellow, grey, blue or green and are great for County Fairs and Exhibitions
Casper These pumpkins are perfect for carving and with flesh that is super sweet, they are perfect for pies and baking, too.
Lumina Ghostly white pumpkins with delicious orange flesh that stores well.
Snowball High in fiber and essential minerals, their colorful orange flesh signifies an abundance of the antioxidant beta-carotene. These cranium-sized squash cry out to be carved or painted for autumnal decorations.
Little Boo has a smooth, hard white rind and thick, firm flesh walls.
Green-Striped Cushaw also known as the Tennessee sweet potato squash. It is a great display pumpkin and an all-around squash for desserts or vegetable dishes.
Tennessee Sweet Potato (heirloom) winter squash
White Cushaw great for mixed bins, focal centerpieces, or decorations. It is also an excellent variety for cooking.
Golden Cushaw has sweet flesh reminiscent of sweet potatoes and is very high in many nutrients, earning it the highest edibility rating from the group Plants for a Future.
Naked Seeded: pepitas
Austria Oil Seed
Gleisdorfer Naked Seeded
Trick or Treat (hybrid, 10 to 12 pounds, good for carving)
Tricky Jack (hybrid; small)
Triple Treat (thick flesh; 6 to 8 pounds; cooks, carves well)
Baby Boo (white) as enjoyable to look at as they are to eat.
Jack-Be-Little (standard orange miniature)
Jack-Be-Quick (taller, darker orange)
Munchkin (uniform, attractive orange)
Sweetie Pie (small, scalloped, medium orange)
We didn’t have any idea that there are so many different shapes, sizes, and varieties of pumpkins. Did you?
When shopping for your pumpkin, remember that Jack-O-Lantern type Pumpkins tend to be from the subfamily of pumpkins called “Cucurbita pepo.” Giant ones tend to be from the subfamily of pumpkins called “Cucurbita maxima.” Processing ones, good for pies and eating, tend to be from the subfamily of pumpkins called “Cucurbita moschata.” One place that seems to have a wide variety to choose from is Schaake’s Pumpkin Patch in Kansas. It looks like a fun and exciting place to find the perfect pumpkin. Plus, they offer free admission, hay maze, and hayrides!
Large Halloween Pumpkins are perfectly fine for cooking. However, because they’re so big, they hold a lot of water, and their flavor is spread out across all that bigness and diluted by all that water. These pumpkins have been bred to not have as much flesh inside as other pumpkins whose primary market would be cooking. When you cook with these pumpkins, ideally you want recipes that let you cook some of the water out, concentrating the flavor. Most chefs today say not to cook with these pumpkins at all. But many a person’s
Most chefs today say not to cook with these pumpkins at all. But many a grandma made her pumpkin pies with them, steaming the pumpkin pulp, and then whipping it into pies that were always amazing. Maybe these grandmothers just knew how to create masterpieces with the ingredients they had. Or today’s chefs don’t have something that the grandmothers did — grandchildren who wouldn’t have been satisfied if they couldn’t have picked out the BIGGEST Pumpkins at the store.