Pumpkins are a hardy squash native to North America. Evidence suggests that pumpkins originated in Mexico between 7000 and 5500 BC. Today, pumpkins grow on all continents except Antarctica.
Not all pumpkins are large, round and orange. The smallest variety weighs less than 1 pound while the largest tops 1,000 pounds. A pumpkin’s shape can be round, oblong and ovoid. And, its smooth rind comes in many colors including white, green, gray, blue and orange.
In the United States, pumpkins symbolize the official arrival of fall. Communities across the country celebrate the harvest season with pumpkin patches and pumpkin festivals. No traditional Thanksgiving dinner omits a pumpkin pie for dessert, and we’re not ready for Halloween without a carved jack-o-lantern on the porch.
When it comes to cooking, the versatile pumpkin is delicious in an array of dishes, from cheesecake and spiced lattes to baked goods, soups and side dishes. Pumpkin flesh, blossoms and seeds are all edible.
How to Select a Pumpkin
Pumpkin season begins in October and lasts through winter. You’ll find them in your market’s produce section or special displays for Halloween and Thanksgiving.For the perfect Halloween jack-o-lantern,
choose a carving pumpkin
. Its thick skin and thin walls stand up to carving and outdoor display. While all pumpkins are edible, carving pumpkins, with their low sugar content and stringy flesh, are the poorer choice for eating.For eating, choose pie pumpkins
– their sweet, tender flesh is perfect for savory dishes and purees used in pies and other baked goods. Pie pumpkins have a thinner skin and are smaller than carving pumpkins, weighing in at only 4 to 10 pounds each. About one pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin will yield one cup of cooked pumpkin puree.
When choosing pie pumpkins for cooking, look for:
- Uniform size and color
- Blemish-free surface – no nicks, scratches, cracks, cuts, soft spots or bruises
- Skin that has a dull or matte finish (a shiny skin means the pumpkin was picked too early)
- An intact stem that’s 1 to 2 inches long
- Ones that feel heavy for their size