Heirloom Pumpkins: To Eat or Carve
For the past few years we’ve seen an heirloom pumpkin revival, a sprawling showcase of wild gourds at orchards, farm stands and farmers’ markets. More and more Fairy Tales and blue Hubbards are debuting on doorsteps or at dinner parties, these beauties standing out amongst a family of round, tall, flat, warted, grey, white, striped and blue or green.
Pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) are members of the cucurbit (gourd) family of edible fruits that includes vine plants such as cucumbers, squash and watermelons. And, just like apples, they come in many varieties, with the common orange pumpkin being, well, rather common.
At nearby Longwood Gardens a huge display of over 100 different gourds are the highlight of an annual October garden display. I go every year with my eight-year-old who starts talking about pumpkins way before October arrives. By now he knows a Cheese pumpkin from a Fairytale.
No matter what type you choose, you can work with ever bit of the pumpkin. You can drill them, carve them, pull out their pulp; the entire gourd is useable. You can even weave their skins into mats and hollow out their shells to form colorful, all-natural bowls or containers.
The there’s the flesh, which is delicious for pies, bread, soup. You can even roast their iron-rich seeds, eat the blossoms or dry the pumpkin to grind into flour.
An added bonus: high in fiber, antioxidants and Vitamin A, pumpkins are nutritious.
Heirloom pumpkins, like most heirloom fruits and vegetables, are bursting with flavor, so be sure and choose one to eat before you carve.
The French cultivated many culinary varieties like the silvery blue Jarrahdale, one I sculpted with my son so we could bake the flesh, then enjoy our Jack-o-Lantern.
Both the Fairytale (Musque de Provence) and Jarrahdale pumpkins are great for pie; for soup or stew, the French heirloom Cinderella (Rouge vif D’Etampes) is recommended.
Actually, the first pumpkins were called pepon, which is Greek for “large melon.” The French preferred to call the large melons pompon, and the British, pumpion. But since the word “pumpkin” better suited the American colonists, that’s the name we took on.
Call them what you want, but it’s the heirloom varieties that stop me in my tracks, the colors and textures worth admiring like a field of wild flowers. I’d like one of each, not to eat necessarily, but to place around my house and yard.
If you are curious about heirloom pumpkin varieties, check out this pumpkin slide show that highlights the unexpected.