Happy Birthday to my sister Lynn Miller! Lynn's birthday always makes me think of wiener roasts and pumpkins. Those of you celebrating Halloween carve pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns. Others, including my sister, simply enjoy decorating with uncarved pumpkins or eating pumpkin desserts.
Pumpkins are native to this country and have been immortalized in legend and history. They were obviously a vital source of food to the earliest settlers in this country. Pumpkins were made part of literature in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And, who can forget reading about Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin?
Mostly, pumpkins are great for eating. They are used to make pumpkin butter, pies, custard, bread, cookies, and soup. The flowers may be picked just before or as they open, dipped in batter and fried as a delicacy. The small, immature pumpkin fruit (before the seed develops) may be prepared like a summer squash. These young, tender fruits may be steamed or boiled and then served as a buttered vegetable; or sliced, dipped in batter, and fried. The immature pumpkin is sometimes cut into strips and eaten raw with dips for snacks. The seeds of "naked-seeded" varieties do not have tough seed coats and can be roasted in the oven or sautéed for snacks. Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin A.
There are many different varieties or types of pumpkins available. Small pumpkins are grown primarily for fall decorations or for cooking and pies and are usually referred to as "pie" types. They vary in size from less than 2 pounds to more than 5 pounds.
Intermediate and large varieties are used primarily for jack-o'-lanterns and decorating. Recent variety developments greatly strengthened the walls to produce rounder pumpkins with stronger stems.
Processing pumpkins are a different species of pumpkins and are almost exclusively canned commercially. These yield the familiar dark orange, fine-textured, dry-fleshed product most consumers' demand. Because these varieties look more like buff-colored watermelons than pumpkins, their cousin's picture graces the can; but the true, high-quality flesh desired for pumpkin pies comes from these relatives of butternut squash.
Jumbo or mammoth pumpkin varieties are again a different species. These attract much attention and have long been used for exhibits at county fairs. Annual weigh-offs take place at numerous locations around the country. Winners routinely top a quarter ton. To grow a big pumpkin, genetics is everything. The better and larger the pumpkin your seed comes from, the better your chance of producing a whopper of your own. Buy your seed from a reliable source, and try your hand at producing the Great Pumpkin.
There are many more types of pumpkins too including white varieties, long necked ones, and miniatures. Enjoy your pumpkins this fall. Uncut, they will last several months at about 50 degrees.