When we hear the word “pumpkin,” most of us think of Halloween Jack-o’-lanterns. But pumpkins come in all shapes, colors, and sizes—from the miniature to the gigantic. The large pumpkins used for Halloween decorations can be eaten, but there are better varieties of pumpkin for cooking. Here’s a rundown on the types of pumpkin you may find in grocery stores and at farmers’ markets.
- Cinderella pumpkins: This deep orange, variegated pumpkin looks like a regular pumpkin that got squashed flat (appropriate, since it belongs to the squash family).
- Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins: This is not a botanical designation, but a market term than refers to pumpkins grown for their large cavities and thin walls. The thin rinds make them perfect for carving, but not as well for cooking.
- Japanese pumpkins: These are also sold as a type of winter squash called kabocha.
- Mini pumpkins: These minuscule versions of the real thing are cute, but more of an ornament than a vegetable. In addition to the standard pumpkin-orange color, these come in a beautiful cream-white.
- Pie pumpkins: There are a number of pumpkins with a very high flesh-to-seed-cavity ratio. They are intended for cooking rather than pumpkin carving. One especially flavorful pumpkin in this category is called sugar pumpkin.
- Canned pumpkin: Canned pumpkin puree is not only a convenient form of pumpkin, but also a very rich, low-fat source of all the nutrients in fresh pumpkin. Canned pumpkin puree is much denser than homemade mashed pumpkin, because it has been cooked down enough to prevent it from being too watery in a pumpkin pie. As a result it is about twice as high in calories as homemade, though still only 83 calories a cup. However, its nutrient content is impressive. One cup of canned pumpkin has 290 percent of the daily requirement for beta carotene (32 milligrams) and 43 percent of the RDA for iron. Be sure when you are looking for canned pumpkin to get the unsweetened solid-pack puree, not “pumpkin pie filling,” which is pre-sweetened and pre-spiced.
How to pick the best pumpkin
Most pumpkins are grown for the Halloween market, or are destined to be turned into canned pumpkin puree. Because of the limited market demand for fresh pumpkins, they are primarily available fresh in the fall months October and November.
If you’re buying a fresh pumpkin during the limited fresh-pumpkin season, there’s not much to know. Any pumpkin you buy will have been picked ripe or it wouldn’t be the requisite orange color. But check for soft spots anywhere on the pumpkin, and especially at the stem.
How to store pumpkins
Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins are bred to have thin walls and therefore do not store as well as other winter squash. If you buy Cinderella, Japanese, or pie pumpkins, all of which have thicker walls, they will keep as well as other winter squash.
Store your pumpkin out of direct sunlight, and if you’re storing outside, make sure the pumpkin is protected from frost.
Don’t store the pumpkin on a hard, nonporous surface such as a wood table, or on a carpet. The bottom of the pumpkin can soften and leak. It’s best to put a cloth or placemat between the pumpkin and a table or counter.