Fall has arrived and with that comes pumpkin season! Pumpkins are used during this time of year for carving, decorating, and adding to tasty treats. Whether you plan to grow your own pumpkins, pick them at a pumpkin patch, or grab some from the local grocery store, you will want to make sure that you choose the perfect pumpkin that suits your needs.
How to Choose the Right Pumpkin
1. Determine How You Will Use Your Pumpkins
Before you pick a pumpkin, think about how you plan to use it.
- Will it be sitting on the front steps for the season as a decoration?
- Are your children going to carve a face into it?
- Will it be used to make sweet treats like pumpkin pies and breads?
- Will it be used for savory dishes like pumpkin pasta, soup, or stew?
- Maybe you plan to use it in a pumpkin smash competition or simply to roast pumpkin seeds.
The use of the pumpkin will determine the type that you need to look for. Some pumpkins are beautiful to look at but don’t have flesh that is pleasing in an edible dish. Some are delicious, but won’t add to the aesthetic that you want. Some pumpkins can meet both your cooking & decorating needs.
2. Pick a Pumpkin at the Right Stage
Make sure that you choose a pumpkin that is ripe or just a little bit under-ripe. This will allow you to get a longer lifespan out of your pumpkin before it begins to go bad.
Signs of a Ripe Ready-to-Pick Pumpkin
Here are a few things to look for when picking a pumpkin from the patch, garden, farm stand, or grocery store.
If you tap on a pumpkin, it should have an echoing hollow sound. If there is a “dead” sound, there is a good chance the pumpkin is overripe.
Stem & Tendril
The stem on ripe pumpkins should be firm and starting to turn brown & woody. Trace the stem back to the vine and you will see two tiny little curly “branches” extending out. If they are still green, the pumpkin isn’t quite ready. When those tendrils are brown, it is ready to be picked!
The pumpkin’s skin should be hard and fully colored (solid orange or whatever color your specific pumpkin variety should be). Use your fingernail to push on the skin. If ripe, this should make a small dent without cutting into the pumpkin.
How to Know if a Pumpkin Has Gone Bad
When choosing a pumpkin to use in the kitchen or for decoration, watch out for signs of rotting. The last thing you want is to come home with a pumpkin that is already turning. Avoid pumpkins that have soft spots, bruising, discolored spots, mold, a bad odor, or liquid leaking out. Be sure to take a good look at the bottom of the pumpkin. Signs of rotting often show first here.
3. Know the Difference between Heirloom and hybrid Pumpkin Varieties
There a so many different types of pumpkins that it is difficult to narrow them down into a few varieties to grow or to look for when shopping. Choosing between heirloom and hybrid varieties can help cut your list in half!
Heirloom pumpkins are varieties that have been around for a long time passed down from generation to generation.
Heirloom varieties are known for producing thicker walls, more pulp (so more edible pumpkin to cook with), less stringiness, and more flavor than “regular” pumpkins. Many heirloom pumpkins have unique colors and shapes that give them an edge over the typical orange-carving pumpkin.
Heirloom varieties always “breed” true so you can save seeds from your heirloom pumpkins and grow the same variety next year.
A hybrid pumpkin is a variety created by cross-pollinating two parent plants from different varieties.
Hybrid pumpkins are typically more uniform than heirlooms so they are more popular with market gardeners and grocery store chains.
It is difficult to save seeds from hybrid varieties as they do not breed true so the seeds will produce an entirely different variety of pumpkin. Some saved seeds will not produce anything at all.
Top 5 Pumpkin Varieties for Cooking
Are you ready to bake your first pumpkin pie of the season? Let’s talk about the varieties of pumpkins that are best suited for the kitchen.
1. Sugar Pumpkins
Sugar pumpkins are also marketed as pie pumpkins. They are small round pumpkins (about 6-8” in diameter) with sweet & smooth flesh that is perfect for making pies, purees (to make that yummy pumpkin spice latte), soups, and other delicious fall treats. This is the small pumpkin variety that you will find in most grocery stores.
2. Cinderella Pumpkins (Rouge Vif d’Étampes)
Cinderella pumpkins are named after the magical carriage in the well-known fairytale. These pumpkins are a deep reddish-orange color and they have a wide flattened shape. While these are beautiful in decorations, they also have a tender, smooth, & sweet flesh that works well for baking, roasting, pureeing, and more.
3. White (Casper) Pumpkins
White Pumpkins are also known as Casper or Ghost Pumpkins. These pumpkins have a mild slightly sweet flavor and tender flesh. The mild flavor makes this a great option for sweet & savory dishes. Soups, curries, pies, muffins… white pumpkins can do it all!
4. Jarrahdale Pumpkins
These pumpkins, named after a town in Western Australia, boast a beautiful blue-grey color and a mild sweet & nutty flavor. Jarrahdale pumpkins are a wonderful choice for grilling, roasting, and baking. Use this pumpkin variety in pies & cakes, soups & stews, and even as an addition to harvest salads with fresh greens or quinoa!
5. Musquee De Provence (Fairytale) Pumpkins
Musquee De Provence pumpkins are also known as Fairytale pumpkins. They are often used interchangeably with Cinderella pumpkins, but this variety has a reddish-brown color as opposed to the bright red-orange of Cinderellas. They have a flattened shape, gorgeous deep ribs, and sweet flesh that is perfect for soups, risottos, pies, gnocchi filling, and any other pumpkin-focused creation that you want to whip up.
- White Pumpkin Pie
- Old-Fashioned Soft Pumpkin Cookies
- Pumpkin Bars
- Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer
- Homemade Pumpkin Puree
- Mennonite Pumpkin Pie
- Creamy Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce
- Spiced Pumpkin Bread
Top 6 Types of Pumpkins for Decorating
There are many pumpkin varieties that can be used as fall decor. You can choose a pumpkin from an array of sizes, shapes, and textures to fit your seasonal decorative style. Here are the top 6 pumpkins that will add a cozy fall aesthetic to your front porch.
1. Classic Orange Pumpkins
These pumpkins are the traditional choice for carving jack-o-lanterns and adorning harvest-themed porches. Classic orange pumpkins (like Connecticut Field & Howden) are round and brightly colored and they can be found in a variety of sizes. Find these pumpkins at your local pumpkin patch, in the grocery store (typically labeled “carving pumpkin”), or grow them yourself!
2. Flattened Pumpkins
Pumpkins that look like they were smushed down from the top include varieties such as Cinderella, Fairytale, Flat White Boer, and Long Island Cheese.
3. Blue & Green Pumpkins
Pumpkins with blue and green shades can add variety to your fall display. The matte blue Jarrhadale and the bumpy green Marina di Chioggia are two of the most popular pumpkin varieties in this category.
4. White Pumpkins
The addition of white to your fall decorations can add brightness and elegance to an otherwise dark setting. White pumpkins come in many varieties like Casper, Lumina, Flat White Boer, Cotton Candy, Super Moon, and mini Casperita & Baby Boo.
5. Warty Pumpkins
Mix pumpkins with textured “warty” skin to add some diversity into your seasonal decorations. Popular warty pumpkin varieties include Galeux d’Eysines, Black Futsu, Red Warty Thing, Warty Goblin, and Knucklehead.
6. Mini Pumpkins
We can’t leave out the little guys! Mini pumpkins are an excellent way to finish off a harvest decor look. Use them to fill in the spaces that aren’t quite covered by the larger pumpkins. Common mini pumpkin varieties include Jack-Be-Little, Baby Boo, Casperita, Batwing, Tiger Stripe, and Sweet Lightening.