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Pumpkin Size: Cooking and Carving

Pumpkin in October

Pumpkin in OctoberJack-o’-lantern or pie?

That could be the question you ask when faced with a pumpkin in late autumn.

The answer is simple. It’s in the size of the pumpkin before you.

Pumpkin size: cooking and carving

Small pumpkins are best for cooking. They will be sweet and delicious, perfect for pie fillings, breads, muffins and soups.

Intermediate and large pumpkins are usually not very tasty eating and are best suited for Jack-o’-lanterns. And those huge pumpkins you see at the county fair and pumpkin growing competitions, they are best for just that—fairs and competitions.

The orange, round, ribbed vegetable we call the pumpkin is one of the hard-skinned squashes that fall under the general term winter squash. A winter squash seed goes into the soil at about the same time as the summer or soft-skinned squash seed (think zucchini), but after harvest, the winter squash’s hard shell allows it to be stored for use during the winter.

So how is a pumpkin different from other winter squashes—such as the Hubbard or acorn squash? Well, there is no precise botanical difference. The difference is simply in the shape and coloration that has come to be associated with Halloween.

So, Jack-o’-lantern or pie?

Choosing a pumpkin:

If you are buying your pumpkin for pie, muffins or soup, look for a small 4-6 pound pumpkin. Varieties to choose are ‘Early Sweet Sugar’, ‘Luxury’, ‘Spookie’ and ‘Sugar Pie’.

If you are planning to carve your pumpkin into a Jack-o’-lantern, good choices are ‘Cinderella’, ‘Spirit’, and the aptly named ‘Jack-o’-lantern’. These varieties are two to three times larger than the pumpkins you choose for cooking.

When choosing a pumpkin look for one that is crisp and clean and avoid those that are bruised for off-colored. A pumpkin should be heavy for its size and have no soft spots. If you press your thumb into the side of a pumpkin, there should be no give.

The pumpkin is said to have gotten its name from the old French word for melon pompon which got its name from the Green word for melon pepon.

In France, the pumpkin is used mostly for making soups (soupe au poitron).

Here’s a recipe for pumpkin soup:

Place 2 pounds of fresh sugar pumpkin in 3 cups of scalded milk; knead together and add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon of flour. Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar; season with salt and pepper or ginger and cinnamon; add ½ cup of finely julienned ham. Heat (do not boil) and serve.

A half-cup of fresh mashed pumpkin contains 24 calories, just a trace of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates and a whopping 26908 international units of Vitamin A.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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How To Grow Potatoes

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