Pumpkin Dining: A Beginner’s Guide

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October 10, 2013

A trip to the pumpkin patch shows just how much variety there is in the pumpkin family, so how do you tell which pumpkins are best for eating? It is important to note that all pumpkins are eatable. Even the Jack-O-Lantern can be served up in a delicious dish. However, each pumpkin will have a different flavor and texture to bring to the table. Therefore, the best pumpkin depends on the recipe you wish to make.

Pies and Desserts

Pumpkin pies and desserts are a staple for many families in autumn, but you don’t need to settle for canned pumpkin puree. A fresh pumpkin can be exactly what you need to bring the dish to the next level. For pies and desserts you will want a pumpkin with a sweet taste and smooth texture. Here are my top three picks for the best pie pumpkin:

  • The Sugar Pie – The Sugar Pie pumpkin is the most common pie pumpkin found in the produce section of grocery stores. These are the small, dense pumpkins sometimes called simply “pie pumpkins,” “sweet pumpkins,” or “sugar pie.” These pumpkins have a fine-grained texture, thin outer skins, and a nice sweet taste.
  • Cinderella Pumpkin – The Cinderella pumpkin is a French heirloom pumpkin variety. The Cinderella pumpkin is easy to spot because it resembles the pumpkin carriage from Cinderella, hence the name. This pumpkin is beautiful for decor, but is also a fantastic eating pumpkin. The Cinderella pumpkin comes in a variety of sizes and can be quite large, but still remain sweet. The grain is finer than a Jack-O-Lantern and the meat is the perfect sweetness for pies or desserts. The Cinderella pumpkin can also be substituted for any winter squash recipe.
  • Winter Luxury – The Winter Luxury pumpkin is a small orange pumpkin with a dense, sweet meat. This pumpkin can be spotted by looking for a very round, small pumpkin with a long stem. These make fantastic pie pumpkins because they are dry, fine textured, and sweet.

For pies and desserts, generally go for the smaller pumpkin, barring the Cinderella. Most small, heavy pumpkins make great pie pumpkins.

Pumpkin Seeds

One of my favorite fall snacks are roasted pumpkin seeds. Each variety of pumpkin has slightly different seeds. The seeds can have thick hulls, thin hulls, or even be hull-less. The seeds can be large or small and have a variety of textures. Therefore, pumpkins seeds can be as unique as the pumpkin itself. However, there are three pumpkin varieties that are known for their exceptional quality seeds.

  • Kakai – The Kakai pumpkin is an orange pumpkin with green stripes. This pumpkin has the best seeds for eating as they are hull-less. That means the most meaty seed available from any variety. The pumpkins are beautiful for decor with their multicolored skin and provide a healthy and tasty snack when decor is ready to come down.
  • Baby Bear – The Baby Bear pumpkin is a small orange pumpkin that typically weighs between 1.5-2.5 pounds. It is smaller than most pie pumpkins, but has seeds that are semi hull-less, making them perfect for baking.
  • Snack Jack – The Snack Jack is another semi hull-less seed pumpkin. The Snack Jack is very similar to the Baby Bear but is slightly larger and rounder.

Regardless of the type of pumpkin, pumpkin seeds are always eatable. Jack-O-Lanterns can provide ample seeds and are great when toasted or roasted. Try sprinkling a little salt, pepper, cinnamon, or spices to add a  little flavor.

Hearty Dishes

Pumpkin can be perfect as a stand alone dish or in a hearty side dish. Here are my two favorite hearty meat pumpkins.

  • Carnival – The Carnival is easy to spot with its unique look. It has a standard pumpkin look in a light orange color. The light orange is splashed with dark orange and green to create  a very “carnival” and festive look. These pumpkins can be very small or incredibly large. The taste of a Carnival is very similar to an acorn squash and is perfect for side dishes and additions to the main course. Try adding a little Carnival to your meatloaf, you won’t be disappointed!
  • Sweet Dumpling – The Sweet Dumpling looks like a baby Carnival without the green. It is a small light orange pumpkin with dark orange stripes. This pumpkin is perfect for eating as a stand alone dish or in a variety of soups or entrees. You can simply place the Sweet Dumpling on a baking sheet, bake, and enjoy straight, or you can add it to a variety of squash recipes or main courses.

Pumpkins are plentiful during the autumn months and there is no reason not to take advantage of their variety of flavors. What is your favorite pumpkin dish?   

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