Carving, Cooking or Decorating? Pick the Perfect Pumpkin
Pumpkins cropping up in grocery stores, farmer’s markets and roadside stands are a sure sign of fall. Whether you’re seeking the perfect pumpkin for your child’s first Halloween jack o’ lantern or a bushel of petite pumpkins for a classic autumn display, it’s important to choose pumpkins with the end use in mind.
To help you accomplish this, we’ve identified key qualities and suggested some popular varieties to consider for:
Carving. While technically, you can carve any pumpkin, all Jack O’ Lantern varieties have been specifically bred for the task. In general, they tend to have taller, broader shapes that offer lots of room for creative faces or designs. The walls are stiff and comparatively straight, the flesh is firm and fibrous to withstand carving, and once the seeds are cleaned out the cavity is comparatively large so there’s room for a candle or light.
Cooking. There are hundreds of pumpkin varieties, the majority of which are bred for cooking. Modern sugar-style varieties (Sugar Baby, Sugar Pie, etc.) are ideal for pies. The skins are thin, the flesh is sweet, and the texture is finer and less fibrous than that of carving pumpkins. Or consider the heirloom Cinderella variety, which was cultivated by the Pilgrims and makes delicious soups, stews and pies.
Painting. Look for varieties with smooth skins, shallow ribbing and appealing shapes. Orange Smoothie, Cotton Candy and Lumina are just a few of the many examples.
Decorating. Pumpkins come in colors ranging from tan and pink to gray, pale blue, green, orange, red and white, so there’s a pumpkin to enhance every decorating scheme. Opt for petite and mid-sized varieties for indoor displays and larger ones to make a statement outdoors. For pumpkin topiaries and stacks, consider Cinderella, Fairytale or White Ghost pumpkins. They come in different sizes and colors ranging from red-orange to white, and they feature deep ribs and squat, broad shapes well-suited to stacking.
Novelties. Novelty pumpkins can fall anywhere on the spectrum from carving and cooking to painting and decorating. Look for interesting varieties with distinctive features such as warts, knobs, crinkled skins, pronounced ribs, unusual shapes or richly colored flesh. Wee-Be-Little is especially small, smooth and round, Pump-Ke-Mon is petite with light skin and yellow or green stripes or splotches, and Red Warty sports a deep red-orange skin covered in bumps.
Many grocery stores offer a growing assortment of pumpkin varieties, but it’s smart to head to a farmer’s market, roadside stand or pumpkin farm if you’re seeking a specific or unusual variety. The growers and vendors know their crop, understand the different qualities each variety offers, and can help you pick the perfect pumpkin for carving, cooking or decorating.