The Great (Heirloom) Pumpkin

Pumpkin PatchVarieties of pumpkins for carving, eating, or both!

Who isn’t familiar with Linus from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip and his belief in the Great Pumpkin? Linus believes that on Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for all the children. This wasn’t just wishful thinking on Linus’ part. He truly believed in The Great Pumpkin, and did so year after year.

We also believe in great pumpkins; in fact, we don’t know of any pumpkin that isn’t great. Sure, we love pie pumpkins, field pumpkins, and giant pumpkins, just like everybody else. But we’re especially attracted to the unusual varieties. And many of those are heirloom pumpkins.

Not so many years ago (and we’re showing our age here), pumpkins were, well pumpkins. Going to the market to buy one for carving was a simple task. One size fit all. The same ones served as meat pumpkins, ready to be baked and made into pie. Most people didn’t actually do that because canned pumpkin was so prevalent and convenient. And the meat of those field pumpkins? Not so choice.

Even then, gardeners had only a handful of choices. But the advent of sweet-meat pumpkins, both hybrid and heirloom, suddenly made the pumpkin more popular in American gardens. Today, there’s an array of attractive pumpkins, some of which don’t look like what we think of as pumpkins. And there are several great eating varieties, including the Long Island cheese and the beautiful Rouge Vif d’Etampes, a pumpkin so tasty it can even be fried if picked young and sliced. And then there are those, like the Atlantic Giant, produced by the late “target breeder” Howard Dill of Windsor Nova Scotia, that can only be called competitive pumpkins, grown by those seeking record-sized fruits.

We’ve always thought of pumpkins as “objects de arte” (pardon our French) a creative blank slate on which carvers work their magic. Many of today’s pumpkins are works of art even without being carved. There’s the beautiful musquee de Provence (more French), deeply ribbed, wonderfully colored, and looking like a round of cheese. There’s the wonderful slate gray jarrahdale heirloom from Australia and New Zealand, and the ghostly white lumina (scroll down). Not surprisingly, many of these unique, old-fashioned pumpkins are good eating as well as good looking.

Yes, we know it’s a long while until it’s time to plant pumpkins. But now, when you can see the results, is a good time to plan. Here’s a list of pumpkin varieties that’s longer than a pumpkin vine.

Pumpkins are easy to grow but those trailing vines require lots of room. That’s why the area in which they’re grown is popularly called a “patch” (see Linus above). You could dig out a circular planting space in an unused corner of your lawn and let the vines trail where they will (don’t expect to be mowing much around that area, something we’ve always seen as a plus). Carving pumpkins is a great family activity, but so is making pie. You don’t really need us to give you a recipe, do you? That’s what grandmas are for. But how about one for creamy pumpkin custard?

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