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4 Kinds of Pumpkins You Didn't Know Existed
Who knew there were so many different kinds of pumpkins! In the United States pumpkins are associated most with fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving. And for good reason – pumpkins grow best when sown in July, making them ready to harvest just before the first frost, just in time for the fall holidays.
The pumpkin is actually a number of different squashes in the family Cucurbitaceae, the same family as gourds. Pumpkins are usually yellow or orange, but some varieties are white, green and even blue. There are four species of pumpkins with a number of varieties in each species.
The monsters of the pumpkin world, C. maxima contains some of the biggest varieties of pumpkins, including those grown for weigh-off competitions. This species contains most winter squashes, hubbard squash, banana squash, and buttercup squash.
The ‘Atlantic Giant’ variety was developed starting in the late 1800s. In 1981 Howard Dill of Nova Scotia broke the world record pumpkin weight with a 500 pound giant (for that time). He patented the seeds, calling them Dill’s Atlantic Giant, and is today credited for all of the giant pumpkins grown, though he no longer holds the world record. That distinction now belongs to Christy Harp’s 1,725 pound Atlantic Giant weighed at the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers weigh-off in 2009.Other varieties of C. maxima include ‘Australian Blue’, a rare Australian heirloom that is excellent for baking; ‘Queensland Blue’, a well-known Australian pumpkin that has a smooth, blue-gray skin; ‘Marina di Chioggia’, a very old Italian heirloom which is sweet and often used for baking or soups; and ‘Red Kuri’, or ‘Baby Red Hubbard’, a Japanese variety with a sweet, nutty flavor.
These are a variety of small and colorful pumpkins. C. mixta pumpkins make interesting decoration for the fall holidays and are used in arts and crafts projects. C. mixta also has medicinal uses as a vermifuge and laxative – from a liquid emulsion of its seeds.
Miniature pumpkins are small, easy to handle for children and fun to grow or decorate with. Specific varieties include ‘Baby Bear’ which has “easy-to-grip handles” and soft-hulled seeds good for roasting; ‘Jack B. Little’, a tiny orange pumpkin with a flat top; and ‘We Be Little’, a good choice to fill with pumpkin-pie filling and bake for a delectable harvest party dessert.
‘Cushaw Squash’ is one of the best known varieties of C. mixta. Within cushaws there are also several cultivars. They are all pear-shaped with a striped skin in green, yellow, orange or white. Like many pumpkins, all parts of the plant are edible.
Common among C. moschata are some of the world’s most unusual squashes as well as a few that are common in markets in North and South America. C. moschata pumpkins are often used for pumpkin-pie filling.
‘Butternut squash’ is the best known member of C. moschata. It is known as butternut pumpkin in Australia and New Zealand. With a sweet, nutty flavor, this squash is roasted, toasted, pureed, or mashed into soup, casseroles, breads and muffins.
‘Calabaza’ is a well-known variety of C. moschata in central and South America. Calabaza’s sweet flavor makes it a favorite in the local cuisine, and it has medicinal uses such as helping to prevent common types of kidney stones.
Other varieties of C. moschata include ‘Long Island Cheese’, a pumpkin dating to the 19th century and resembling a wheel of cheese; the rare ‘Musquee de Provence’, a large ‘fairy tale’ heirloom variety from southern France; and ‘Violina’, another rare heirloom variety, this one from Italy and used for desserts, stuffing and baking.
C. pepo contains some of the most common squash in the produce section of the grocery store. The most well-known varieties are acorn squash, spaghetti squash, yellow crookneck squash, yellow summer squash and zucchini. Lesser known varieties include pattypan squash, a delicacy in fine cuisine; gem squash found in South Africa and rather unpalatable compared to other pumpkins and squashes; heart of gold squash, a cross between a sweet dumpling and acorn squash; and sweet dumpling, a very small and sweet squash that is often stuffed and baked as individual servings, similar to ‘We Be Little’.
From Jack o’ Lantern-type fruit to common squashes, miniature fruit to rare delicacies, the variety in the pumpkin family is astonishing. Though we may not use zucchini or yellow summer squash as part of a table centerpiece decoration, chances are you may not look at those quite the same on the next trip to the grocery store. Likewise, pumpkins most commonly used for decorations at Halloween and into Thanksgiving present a tantalizing variety for the dinner or dessert plate. The pumpkin family is one of variety, sweet flavor, beauty and endless possibilities limited only by the imagination.
© 2010 Cristina Vanthul