The Best Pumpkins for Pumpkin Pies
Growing pumpkins for Halloween is a great family project. What you plan to do with them will determine which ones you grow. Large pumpkins that are suitable for use as jack-o-lanterns aren't used for cooking because their flesh is watery and stringy. The stringiness will not combine well with the other ingredients for a smooth batter. The extra moisture makes the batter too moist so that the resulting bread or muffin will not bake correctly. It will not have the proper "crumb" or texture.
The best pumpkins for cooking, especially that all-important pie, are smaller with firmer flesh and lower water content. The firm flesh mixes in with the flour, sugar and eggs creating a smooth batter. The low water content allows you to better control the moisture of the batter so that it will bake correctly and your finished product will have that desirable "crumb" or texture.
Culinary pumpkins tend to weigh less than 10 pounds, falling in the range of 5 to 8 pounds each. Both heirlooms and hybrids can be grown and used for cooking.
Heirlooms are plants that are "open pollinated". If kept isolated from other plants of the same variety, they will produce seeds that will grow into plants that are identical to the parents. The advantages of growing heirlooms are that you can save the seed from year to year rather than buying new seeds every year and the taste of heirlooms is usually superior to hybrids.
Hybrids are plants that are the result of deliberate cross-pollination between two different varieties. The reason this is done is to combine the best features of both parents into a new plant variety. Desirable features include disease resistance, uniformity of fruit and increased yields. The drawbacks are that you must purchase new seeds each year and the fruit may not be as flavorful as heirlooms.
Heirloom pumpkin varieties that are commonly grown for cooking include Small Sugar, Baby Pam and New England Pie. Hybrid pumpkins that are suitable to cook with include Howden's Field, Autumn Gold (an AAS variety) and Triple Treat.
Pumpkins that aren’t pumpkins
Everyone knows and loves the heirloom pumpkin, Rouges Vif d'Etampes, also known as the Cinderella pumpkin, but it is not a true pumpkin. Pumpkins are classified as Cucurbita pepo. Cinderella pumpkins are classified as Cucurbita maxima, considered a variety of winter squash. Nevertheless, they can be used for cooking and baking. Another heirloom favorite that is not a true pumpkin is Musquee de Provence, classified as Cucurbita moschata, also a variety of winter squash. Musque de Provence is likewise a good culinary squash. Both have firm flesh and low water content. And those pastel pumpkins that you see everywhere? They are called, improbably, cheese pumpkins and classified as Cucurbita moschata. Not only are they wonderful decorative squash, but you can cook with them too.
What's in those cans?
So what variety of pumpkin is in those cans of puree that fill the grocery shelves each fall? Winter squash, not pumpkin. Libby, the largest producer of canned pumpkin, uses Dickinson pumpkins, a variety of butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata). Other winter squash that can be substituted include hubbard squash, buttercup squash and turban squash all of which are Cucurbita maxima.
How to make pumpkin puree
No matter which pumpkin or squash you grow, making puree is easy.
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Wash the fruit and cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds and stringy parts. Lay the halves face down on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes to one hour or until soft.
Cool the halves and then scoop out the cooked flesh. Puree it in a food processor. The puree can be used immediately or frozen for later use.
When all is said and done, pumpkins are just a variety of winter squash. So if you are unable to grow or buy culinary pumpkins, you can substitute other kinds of winter squash in your recipes.
© 2013 Caren White