Oooh, Halloween…so exciting, and scary, especially when you are a child. I remember familiar streets suddenly spooky in the chilly autumn darkness, with a cold wind scudding fallen leaves down the way and lifting the edge of my costume’s cape as I peered out warily through my mask. I remember decorated porches, ghosts made from pillowcases and jaunty jack-o-lanterns. I remember how lit-up our home’s doorway looked so comforting, and coming inside to the heady scent of hot spiced apple cider. And I remember trading “loot” with my siblings after trick-or-treating—two Nestles Crunch bars for one big Reese’s peanut-butter cup!
Now that I’m grown, Halloween looks different. Not as magical, I guess. I just bought some pumpkins to carve and set out on the front porch—big pumpkins, but not as heavy as you might think. Meanwhile, I have a smaller farmstand pumpkin on the shelf in the kitchen awaiting its fate in a homemade pie or scones or bread or muffins.
Yes, Virginia, there are two kinds of pumpkins. The ones grown specifically for Halloween decorations are meant to be large, as smooth-skinned as possible and uniformly orange. They have been deliberately bred also to have less flesh and seeds inside, since we will not be eating them. That is why they seem to weigh less than they should. Eating/cooking pumpkins, on the other hand, tend to be more compact and dense, with thicker flesh. While it is true that you can use either type for either purpose—no big deal, really—over the years, plant breeders have differentiated them. I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but here in the Northeast, this is what I have seen:
Jack-o-lantern pumpkin varieties: ‘Prizewinner’, ‘Jack-o-Lantern’, ‘Champion’, ‘Racer’, ‘Howden’
Eating pumpkin varieties: ‘Sugar Pie’, ‘Connecticut Field’, ‘Rouge d’Etampes’, ‘Baby Bear’, ‘New England Pie’, ‘Long Island Cheese’
There are also the tiny decorative ones, orange ‘Jack Be Little’ and white ‘Baby Boo’. And larger white-skinned ones, which you can draw on just as well as carve, such as ‘Lumina’, ‘Polar Bear’ and ‘Moonshine’.
Please, correct me if I am wrong about these listings, or tell me ones I should add. And, Happy Halloween, everyone!