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Choosing a Pie Pumpkin - What's a Good Pumpkin for Cooking?

Picking a Pumpkin for Cooking


Pumpkin 'Sugar Baby' - Small, but great for pies.

Pumpkin 'Sugar Baby' - Small, but great for pies.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.

Pumpkins for carving are strictly for show. If you’re going to be using your pumpkins for cooking and baking, you want the sweetest pumpkins you can find. A smooth, creamy texture is important too. And having an outer shell on your pumpkin that doesn’t require a power tool to remove is a nice plus. Here are some tips for picking a great pumpkin for eating.

  • The smaller varieties are favored for cooking. They have denser flesh with a smooth texture and a higher sugar content. Cooking pumpkins usually weigh in between 4 -8 pounds.


  • Pumpkin shells get dull as they age, but the flesh should remain intact and can even get sweeter. Don’t shy away from a dull pumpkin unless it is also bruised or blemished.


  • Many cooking varieties help you find them with names like ‘Small Sugar Pumpkin’ or ‘New England Pie Pumpkin’.


  • Besides the traditional pie pumpkins, there are several new varieties being bred specifically for cooking. Some nice, recent introductions include: ‘Baby Pam’, ‘Autumn Gold’ and ‘Ghost Rider’. The white pumpkin ‘Lumina’ is also rapidly becoming a favorite. Although its outer shell is ghostly white, the flesh is still bright orange.


  • You can also use winter squash as a substitute for cooking pumpkins. These tend to be the related species, Cucurbita maxima, (pumpkins are C. pepo), which has a harder shell and stores longer. Butternut squash, in particular, shows up in a lot of old recipes as an alternative. Most commercial canned pumpkin is actually some type of C. maxima squash, like ‘Dickinson Field’.


  • Crook-necked squash, sometimes called neck pumpkins, are long and curved with a bulbous end. Their smooth tan skin is easier to peel than other pumpkins and the orange flesh is flavorful and springless.


  • The Cinderella or Fairy Tale Pumpkin, ‘Rouge Vif D'Etampes’, is delicious, but very hard to shell. It looks beautiful though and since it’s a C. maxima, it lasts for months.


  • Although you can roast and eat the seeds of any pumpkin, ‘Kakai’ is an orange and black pumpkin from Australia, with the type of seeds that are being studied for their ability to promote prostate health. They’re delicious too.


Pumpkins are more than a Halloween oddity and it’s a shame we don’t use them more in cooking. Maybe these recipes will tempt you to grow and eat more pumpkins.

More on havesting and choosing carving pumpkins.

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