Pumpkin time – Cooking and decorating with my favorite harbinger of fall


What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye? What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?”
— From “The Pumpkin” by John Greenleaf Whittier, 1846

P. Allen Smith’s beloved Pumpkin House at Moss Mountain Farm. photo by Steven Veach

Despite what the calendar says, autumn doesn’t begin for me until I see my first pumpkin of the season.  Pumpkins mean delicious seasonal desserts, beautiful fall table centerpieces, and creative home and garden decor that starts at the dining room table and extends to the front door and beyond. Heck, I’ve even made a house out of pumpkins!

This beautiful round orange squash plays a quintessential role throughout life at Moss Mountain Farm, indoors and out. But not all pumpkins are created equal — they vary greatly in size (palm-sized minis to 1,000-pound giants), color (white, green, tan, orange, blue and more), texture (smooth, warty, crackled and ridged), shape (squat to round and everything in between) and use (cooking vs. decorating).

So let’s explore some of my favorite varieties for cooking and carving, decorating and display.

Choosing the best pumpkin for your autumn recipes

Over the years, I’ve used pumpkin in recipes ranging from savory chicken stew to crème brûlée and martinis, and I’m not even close to finishing exploring the boundaries of this versatile fruit. As an ingredient, it brings a flexibility to cooking that I really admire. Sweet desserts and breads? Check. Savory main dishes? Of course. Thick creamy soups? Naturally.

Plus the health benefits are undeniable. One cup of fresh pumpkin contains only 2.5 grams of sugar and is rich in fiber. It’s also a great source for minerals and vitamins A, C and E. So eat up!

And while all pumpkins are edible, there are definitely varieties that beat others for taste and texture. Make an effort to scout out some of the more popular cooking varieties to make your dishes really shine.

  • Long Island Cheese pumpkin — This beige, heirloom pumpkin got its name because its squat shape resembles a wheel of cheese. But don’t be misled by the word “cheese” — it’s a sweet, delicious pumpkin that is a great selection for soups, pies and most recipes.
  • Jarrahdale pumpkin — You‘ll have no trouble spotting this unique gray-blue pumpkin from a distance. Its rich flesh makes it a versatile selection for both sweet and savory recipes.
  • Red Warty Thing pumpkin — Another visually striking pumpkin variety, with dark orange to reddish skin that is covered in small bumps or “warts.” RWT dates back to the 1800s and can be used in a wide variety of recipes. Cook with it or simply enjoy its ornamental appearance.
  • New England pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins — These pumpkins are often easily found in the grocery store or farmer’s markets and include several varieties of smaller pumpkins grown for baking. Its small round size makes it very manageable in the kitchen (and oven) and packs a sweet, fleshy pulp perfect for desserts and sweet breads.
  • Peanut pumpkin — No, not a peanut-flavored pumpkin, but an heirloom variety with a whitish, pink-tinged skin that is covered in small, peanut-shaped growths. Although the description doesn’t make it sound especially tasty, it is one of the best pumpkins for desserts because of its sugar-laden pulp.
  • Blue Hubbard squash — I’m throwing you a curveball by including this irregular, pear-shaped blue squash, but its rich, orange flesh is good for sweet and savory dishes alike. Blue Hubbard has an extremely hard outer skin, but it‘s worth the extra effort to crack it open.

Pumpkins for carving, stacking, decorating and more

Any pumpkin can be used for ornamental decor if you like the look of it. Many of the edible “pie pumpkins” have quite unusual coloring and texture, making them just as valuable on the front porch as in the kitchen.

With the arrival of fall I set my table with beautiful fall themes that include various-sized pumpkins. photo by Jane Colclasure

I especially like the minis, which come in a variety of colors and can be used grouped together to fill a see-through wire container or glass apothecary jar. Or simply mound a bunch of them together with votive candles.

The “original” jack-o’-lantern pumpkin is the Connecticut Field pumpkin, which was grown by Native Americans. Its texture is more smooth and less ridged, making it easier to carve. Another popular carving variety is the Howden pumpkin, which has all the good attributes of the Connecticut Field pumpkin, but lasts longer once carved.




A few of my favorite ornamental pumpkins include:

Decorate your entryway with pumpkins this fall for a delightful pop of color. photo by Steven Veach

  • Cinderella and Fairytale pumpkins — These beautiful varieties look like a classic pumpkin that has been half-way squashed, resulting in a more horizontal appearance.
  • Blue Doll pumpkin — This exotic-looking pumpkin weighs in at 15-plus pounds and has a blocky, almost square shape with deep ribs. That, combined with its dusky blue color, makes it a fun decorative fruit.
  • Warty Goblin pumpkin — Like Red Warty Thing, Warty Goblin has a very tactile appearance with lots of lumps and bumps. The green “warts” show nicely against the bright orange skin, making it perfect for display.
  • Casper pumpkin — Like its name implies, this ghostly white pumpkin is a scene-stealer. The white skin shows nicely on a dark porch, picking up and reflecting any nearby light.
  • Hijinks pumpkin — An award-winning pumpkin variety, Hijinks is celebrated for its smooth, orange skin with distinctive ridges.

I hope my enthusiasm for the versatile, beautiful and charismatic pumpkin will inspire you to try a new recipe or two, and/or buy some for decorating your home, both indoors and outdoors.