If you think pumpkins are only for decoration or that pumpkin pie comes out of a can, you've probably never known what a treat growing your own pumpkins can be. There is a lot of variety in pumpkins. When you're planning the type of pumpkin to grow or purchase, it's important to consider what you'll be using the pumpkin for—cooking or carving.
The choice between carving pumpkins and cooking pumpkins is actually very practical: for carving pumpkins, focus on their visual appeal and the ability to easily cut through their shell while the flesh of cooking pumpkins should be tasty with a good texture. The following tips will help you select the right kind of pumpkin.
How to Pick a Pumpkin
Regardless of the type of pumpkin you are looking for, here are some basic guidelines to select a good one.
- Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the vines start to dry up and the pumpkins turn the expected color—orange, white, or a hybrid. Don't pick your pumpkin too soon because it will stop changing color once it's cut from the vine.
- A fully mature pumpkin should be hard enough for short-term storage. Ensure the skin has hardened enough before picking by pressing it with your fingernail; pressing the skin shouldn't crack it.
- Inspect the pumpkin for soft spots and dark bruises. Don't forget to look at the bottom of the pumpkin. The smallest nick can be enough for a disease or pest to enter. And once a pumpkin starts to rot, it can go downhill pretty quickly.
- Never pick up or carry a pumpkin by its stem. The stem is not a handle and can easily break off, leaving the pumpkin with an open wound that invites infection and rot. Holding a pumpkin by its stem makes it easier for you to drop it,
Tips for Picking Carving Pumpkins
- The ideal carving pumpkin should have a shell that is hard enough to protect the pumpkin but still allows you to get a knife through it. Avoid pumpkins with shells that feel as hard as a piece of wood. It can be very difficult and even dangerous to try to cut through especially hard shells.
- You don't want a carving pumpkin that has especially thick walls, as this can block light from the inside and obscure carving details. Tap the pumpkin gently, and listen for a hollow sound. The lack of a hollow sound can mean the walls are very thick. Also, lift the pumpkin to compare how heavy it is to similarly-sized pumpkins. The heavier the pumpkin, the thicker the walls. If you end up with a thick-walled pumpkin, you can shave the walls from the inside.
- The pumpkin's shape is up to your own taste. But it's still important to test to see if the pumpkin has a balanced base to sit on, so it doesn't fall over or tilt to one side when you display it. Tall, oblong varieties tend to be stringier inside, which makes it more difficult to make precise cuts.
- Don't avoid the small pumpkin varieties. They are great for kids to carve and to use in decorative displays. 'Wee-B-Little', 'Baby Bear', and the white 'Baby Boo' are all charming varieties.
- White pumpkins varieties, such as 'Lumina', can give a spooky look to your jack-o'-lantern. They are also easier to paint than orange pumpkins.
Tips for Picking Pumpkins to Eat
Smaller pumpkin varieties are well suited for cooking. They have dense flesh with a smooth texture and high sugar content. Consider these tips to pick a pumpkin to use in your favorite recipes::
- Cooking pumpkins usually weigh between 4 and 8 pounds.
- Pumpkin shells get dull as they age, but the flesh usually remains intact and becomes sweeter. So don't shy away from a dull pumpkin unless it's bruised or blemished.
- You can roast and eat the seeds of any pumpkin variety.
- Many cooking varieties have names that indicate they are destined for pie filling, such as 'Small Sugar Pumpkin' or 'New England Pie Pumpkin'.
- Besides traditional pie pumpkins, several other varieties are specifically bred for cooking. They include 'Baby Pam', 'Autumn Gold', and 'Ghost Rider'. The white pumpkin 'Lumina' can also be used for cooking. Although its outer shell is ghostly white, its flesh is still bright orange.
- The 'Rouge Vif D'Etampes' variety is delicious but is very difficult to shell.
- Crookneck pumpkins, also known as crookneck squash, are long and curved with a bulbous end. Their smooth tan skin is easier to peel than other pumpkins, and their orange flesh is flavorful and not stringy.
- You often can use winter squash as a substitute for cooking pumpkins. Butternut squash in particular is used in recipes as an alternative.