A member of the Cucurbita family, which includes squash and cucumbers, the pumpkin is available in many varieties. All of them may be eaten--but not all should be. Some, grown mostly for decorative purposes, are sturdy in form, brilliantly colored, absolutely tasteless and perfect for carving. Others, not always so picturesque, produce sweet flesh, tasty seeds and edible blossoms. The latter are often called culinary or pie pumpkins.
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The pumpkins typically purchased as Halloween decorations are bright orange and rounded, with thick skin, sturdy flesh and a mostly hollow interior. Cut a hole in the top, scoop out the seed-bearing "guts" and the pumpkin solidly retains its shape for carving and holding candles on Halloween night. Some pumpkins bred for this purpose include 2- to 5-pound varieties like Baby Bear, Spooktacular and Sugar Treat. In the 8- to 15-pound category are the Jack-O-Lantern, Autumn Gold and Harvest Moon varieties. Pumpkins that mature to a size of 15 to 25 pounds include Connecticut Field, Jumpin' Jack and Rouge Vif d'Estampes, or Cinderella pumpkin.
For pies or other baked goods, seek out a sweeter-fleshed, finely grained pumpkin. One, the Pink Banana, is a large but elongated pink-colored pumpkin, or squash, with finely grained flesh that tastes sweeter than that of standard pumpkins. The Sugar Pie variety serves as the standard pie pumpkin, with a thin skin, and sweet, finely grained flesh that is drier and therefore more stable as a pie filling. Another, called the Blue Hubbard, is not even orange on the outside. A traditional favorite in New England, the yellow-orange, moderately sweet flesh inside the Blue Hubbard's faintly blue-tinted skin is used in pies, baked goods and other dishes.
Varieties of culinary pumpkin and squash can be skinned, cut into chunks and added to stew or soups like any other chunk vegetable. Other recipes call for the pumpkin to be pureed into a creamy consistency and served either warm or cold. Some smaller pumpkin varieties, like the Baby Bear or Jack-Be-Little, can be cooked and served with pumpkin soup inside, thereby serving as both food and individual bowl. Larger pumpkins with tops removed can serve as soup tureens. If the large pumpkin is of the sweeter, culinary variety, it can be partially cooked and consumed along with the soup. A Jack-O-Lantern or other decorative pumpkin could serve as a decorative tureen, but probably would not be eaten.
Other Pumpkin Edibles
All pumpkins have seeds that can be seasoned and roasted, but the seeds of one pumpkin in particular, the Kakai, produces hull-less seeds. A few other varieties, such as Baby Bear and Snack Jack, produce semi-hull-less seeds. Pumpkin blossoms can be breaded and fried or used as wraps and stuffed. Different parts of the culinary pumpkin can be pickled, made into preserves or added to a variety of dishes, either in puree or chunk form.