Pumpkins for all Reasons Abound this Season

Fall is in the air, and piles of pumpkins are ready for picking at your local farm stands. This year’s pumpkin crop benefited from fine weather conditions, as the summer’s low rainfall totals created a moderate drought condition that is favorable for growing pumpkins. Most of the diseases that affect pumpkins increase with excess soil moisture – so less rain means a healthier crop. As a result, this season’s crop has an especially large number of varieties to choose from.

The toughest part may be deciding which variety to buy.  Whether you’ll be decorating with carved and painted pumpkins, or using them for cooking, such as for the mini-pumpkin cheesecakes featured in the recipe at the end of this article, you’ll want to select the right pumpkin for the job.

Typically, the Magic Lantern, Wolfe, Gladiator, and Big Moose varieties are used for carving, but choose whatever inspires you.  The Lumina (also good for cooking) has a ghostly white exterior that contrasts with the deep orange interior when carved and lit with a candle.

Special decorative varieties, like Ironsides and Cannonball did especially well this year. These smaller pumpkins, not appropriate for carving, are almost perfectly round and have tough, hard shells. Their shelf life extends well into the winter and they are perfect for painting.

A good carving pumpkin should be firm, but have a shell that is not too hard to cut with a serrated knife.  Tap the pumpkin and listen for a hollow sound.  A dense pumpkin is good, but too dense and the walls will be too thick and block the candle light and any carving details may be lost.  Also, make sure that your pumpkin can balance on its base.

For cooking, choose smaller to medium-sized pumpkins, as larger pumpkins tend to have a higher moisture content and mild flavor, and may disappoint. The Cinderella pumpkin, the Lumina pumpkin, or any sugar pumpkin will taste wonderful in a pie or pot of soup.  The Cinderella and Lumina, along with new varieties such as “The Red Warty Thing”, are attractive for both their decorative and cooking qualities.  Be sure that your pumpkin is free of blemishes, feels heavy for its size, and still has its stem attached.  Store your cooking pumpkin in a cool, dry place or your refrigerator.

Pumpkins are extremely healthy and one of the most nutritious offerings of the fall season.  The bright orange color of a pumpkin’s skin and woody flesh is a dead giveaway to its heavy concentration of beta-carotene. Pumpkin is high in fiber, delivering three to five grams per serving.

Pumpkin puree has the highest concentration of fiber, as the puree is thickened by cooking it down, thereby concentrating the nutritional content.  You can boost the nutrition of any meal by adding a scoop of puree to oatmeal, soup or any fruit pie filling. And, don’t forget about roasting your pumpkin seeds, as they are full of anti-oxidants, high in fiber and protein, and are easy to prepare.

Many people recognize the Giant Pumpkin – colossal vegetables that are popular attractions at local fairs and fall festivals.  But, few people know about special varieties such as Estrella, which are grown on some farms for recreational use such as hurling or firing competitions (sometimes known as “Pumpkin Chunkin”).  The American Chunker team, which recently demonstrated their “chunker” at Trombly Gardens in Milford, has fired pumpkins over 4,300 ft!  For more info on the chunkin, visit the Trombly Gardens Facebook page or see www.americanchunker.com.

Brookdale Farms has sold Lumina pumpkins to the record holding Yankee Siege team from Greenfield, NH. Utilizing a medieval-style war machine called a trebuchet, Yankee Siege set a world record at the 2009 World Championships by hurling a pumpkin 2,034 feet! This year’s championship will be held November 2-4; for more information, go to www.punkinchunkin.com.


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