Pumpkins have one main function here in the U.S.: to serve as Jack-O-Lanterns. It just wouldn’t be October without the iconic carved pumpkin: a large, round, deep orange, ribbed cucurbit with a lopsided grin. But, carving isn’t the only thing you can do with a pumpkin. Pumpkins are delicious in bread, pie, soup, ravioli, cheesecake, you name it—there are literally hundreds of ways to cook a pumpkin.
Not all pumpkins are the same, though, when it comes to culinary qualities. Pumpkins bred to be jack-o-lanterns were created for carving, not cooking. They have thinner walls and bland, watery flesh. If you eat a jack-o-lantern, you are sure to be disappointed, concluding that pumpkins are not nearly as tasty as other types of winter squash.
Luckily, many delicious heirloom varieties of pumpkins survive from back when pumpkins were primarily food, not decoration. They have sweet, dense, delicious flesh, perfect for culinary use. Many are harder to find than the ubiquitous jack-o-lantern, but take a look at your local farmers’ market and you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Note that a few of these tasty varieties are also grown for their decorative qualities.
A few highlights:
Long Pie Pumpkin: Also known as the Nantucket Pie Pumpkin, an oblong heirloom pumpkin that looks more like a giant overripe zucchini. A delicious and versatile favorite.
Cinderella Pumpkin, aka Rouge Vif d’Etampes: A beautiful dark reddish-orange heirloom pumpkin with deep ribs, this pumpkin looks like a fairy-tale carriage. Tasty, strong, sweet flavor, great used as a tureen for pumpkin soup.
Musque de Provence: Another “fairy tale style” heirloom pumpkin, greenish-orange with deep ribs and very large fruit. When sliced very thinly it can be eaten raw.
Jarrahdale Pumpkin: Don’t let the grey skin fool you, this heirloom pumpkin is orange on the inside!
Long Island Cheese Pumpkin: A large, tan, ribbed heirloom pumpkin, considered one of the best for pumpkin pie.
Sugar Pie Pumpkin: One of the easiest culinary pumpkins to find. Looks like a small jack-o-lantern type pumpkin, 3-5 pounds, with a thick stem.
And this is just a start! There are dozens of other delicious heirloom varieties of culinary pumpkins. Got any favorite varieties or recipes? Share them in the comments below!