Did you know that October 26th is National Pumpkin Day? At least, it is according to the unofficial National Day Calendar. I would have thought that a special day for pumpkins would fall on October 31st but it seems that there are already several other honorees on that day, including Halloween, World Cities Day, and National Doorbell Day. That last one at least seems to make sense, given the number of doorbells that will be rung by trick-or-treaters. Those adorable trick-or-treaters will pass by many carved and illuminated pumpkins adorning steps and porches.

Carved Ct field pumpkins crop

More than 2 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown in the United States each year and unfortunately about 1/3 of them end up as waste in our landfills and the other 1/3 may get composted. When pumpkins are carved and then set outside as decorations they begin to decay immediately. We’ve all seen sad-looking jack-o-lanterns that have collapsed in on themselves as they rot.

That is a lot of food waste. In China, where their pumpkin production is almost 6 times that of the US, most pumpkins are eaten in soups, in congee (a delicious slow-cooked rice dish), or even made into flour. The consumption of pumpkin in the US is often limited to desserts, with pumpkin pie winning by a landslide. I’d have expected Thanksgiving, or at least a day in late November, to be Pumpkin Pie Day, but it seems that December 25th has that designation. Who decides these things? I like to make a pumpkin sweet bread that has cinnamon-sugar sprinkled generously over the top prior to baking. And pumpkin is a key ingredient in the homemade dog cookies that Sir and Ellie enjoy when they visit.

Many cuisines around the world treat pumpkin as a savory vegetable, not a sweet fruit. Australia, New Zealand, and many countries in Africa use pumpkins in soups, stews, or just roasted. Here are some sugar pumpkins that have been stuffed and baked. Sugar pumpkins, also known as pie pumpkins, are smaller and rounder than carving pumpkins, with thick, sweet flesh. I removed the tops, keeping them for a lid to put back on to serve them. The seeds and pulp inside the small cavity were removed and then I baked them for an hour at 350°F until a sharp knife easily pierced it. While they were baking, I sautéed onions, apples, dried cranberries, and pecans. When the onions were soft, I added cooked wild rice, rosemary, salt, pepper, and some maple syrup. This mix was stuffed into the cooked pumpkins and then baked again for another 20 minutes to meld the flavors.

Roasted pumpkin seeds are another popular way to utilize more of the pumpkin. Rinse them in a colander as you separate the seeds from the pulp, soak them in a saltwater solution for about 30 minutes then rinse them again before spreading them on a tea towel to dry a bit. Heat an oven to 300°F. Toss the seeds with a little melted butter and some coarse salt and then roast them for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until they are a golden brown, nutritious snack. Spices can be added to the melted butter prior to tossing the raw seeds in it, giving you many sweet and savory options. I guess you could make pumpkin spice pumpkin seeds if you desired.

Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop in the genus Cucurbita which also includes winter squashes, zucchini and summer squashes, and ornamental gourds. The native Americans were already growing pumpkins when the Europeans arrived. The Connecticut field pumpkin is a large (15-25 lbs.) heirloom variety that may be descended from the pre-Columbian species that made their way to New England from northeastern Mexico where they had been cultivated for thousands of years.

CT field pumpkins

Connecticut Field Pumpkins

There are dozens of varieties of pumpkins squashes on the market now in so many shapes, sizes, and colors. Recent visits to farm stands and nurseries showed just how unusual some of these can be. The pale yellow Cotton Candy is petite pumpkin with an almost-white flesh.

Blaze has lovely deep red-orange stripe accents.

New England Cheddar, on the left, and Jarrahdale, on the right, are pumpkin varieties that have pale hues.

Pumpkins that are guaranteed to get some attention are the ‘warty’ varieties. Galeux d’Eysine, featured in the image on the left, is also known as ‘Peanut’ for obvious reasons.

Victor, Warty goblin, and Goosebumps are all orange warty varieties.

The pumpkins and squash that are in the species Cucurbita maxima and are among the largest available. The grey Jarrahdale pictured previously is in that category as are the Cinderella, on the left, the blue Hubbard on the right and an Atlantic Giant below.

So carve or cook a pumpkin today!

Nathan

Susan Pelton

UConn Home & Garden Education Center

All images by Susan Pelton