When the air turns chilly, and the leaves on the trees start to fall, it’s a sure sign that pumpkin season is here. It’s time to warm your hands around a delicious bowl of pumpkin soup, celebrate Thanksgiving with a slice of pumpkin pie and terrify visitors with your spooky pumpkin-carving skills.
Pumpkins are a type of winter squash, which makes them a relative of summer squashes like zucchini and pattypan. There are many different varieties of pumpkin, from the tiny acorn squash that fits in the palm of your hand, to the record-breaking Atlantic Giant, which has produced specimens weighing almost as much as a small car. Different pumpkins have different uses - some have particularly delicious flesh, while others are perfect for carving.
To find out more about everyone’s favourite spooky squash, take a look at our A to Z of pumpkin facts.
Atlantic Giant pumpkin
These record-breaking monsters regularly weigh in at over 300 lbs, with the largest known specimens reaching over 2,500 lbs. The Atlantic Giant may not be the tastiest variety of pumpkins, but if you want to win a pumpkin-growing contest then this is the pumpkin for you. New records are broken every few years, with the current Guinness World Record belonging to Tuscan farmer Stefano Cutruppi, whose prizewinning pumpkin tipped the scales at 2,703 lb in 2021.
Long Island Cheese pumpkin
First grown in Long Island, the Long Island Cheese pumpkin soon had a reputation in New York for making the best pumpkin pies. It gets its name from its shape, which is wide and flat, like a wheel of cheese, with pale orange skin. Inside, the flesh is a deep orange colour, with a dense texture and a deliciously sweet flavour, perfect for pies and purées. It is also great in savoury stews, soups and risottos, and the seeds roast up nicely in the oven, too.
There are several varieties of pumpkin that are green in colour, rather than orange, but a ‘green pumpkin’ usually means a pumpkin that hasn’t fully ripened. Like tomatoes, pumpkins start out green as young fruit, and, if you don’t have a green variety, change colour as they ripen.
If you still have green pumpkins growing in your garden when the colder weather arrives, you may need to rescue them from the frost before they have fully changed colour. At this point, you have a decision to make. You can either eat them as they are, or try a few gardener’s tricks to ripen them a little more.
Green pumpkins are edible, but they will lack the sweetness of a fully ripe pumpkin, so we don’t recommend making green pumpkin pie. Roasting will sweeten them a little, while using them in heavily spiced soups or stews will help to enhance their flavour.
If you want to try ripening a green pumpkin further, try moving them to a warm, sunny spot like a greenhouse and turning them often to expose all sides to the sun. For smaller varieties, try placing them in a bag with ripe apples or bananas, as the ethylene gas emitted by these fruits can help others to ripen.
Heirloom pumpkins are varieties that have been passed down through generations, usually by small scale growers. Unlike large-scale commercial growers, which tend to select plants for yield and disease resistance, heritage varieties are chosen for either taste, appearance or both. For this reason, many people prefer heritage pumpkins if they can find them.
Musquee de Provence
This French heritage variety has a wide, flat shape, with deep ribbing, and ripens to a golden brown color. It has dense, dark orange flesh, with a sweet, nutmeg-like flavour that makes it a particular favorite of chefs. Use Musquee de Provence in any pumpkin dish for a superior result.
Properly called the Rouge Vif d’Etampes, the French Cinderella gets its nickname from its resemblance to Cinderella’s fairytale carriage. Its classic shape makes it perfect for decorating, but it also has particularly delicious flesh, with a thick, custard-like texture and flavour. Try painting yours instead of carving them, and then eating them later.
A heritage variety from New Zealand, the Jarrahdale is another pumpkin that works well as both decoration and for cooking. It has a striking, blue-grey colour skin and bright orange flesh with a melon-like aroma. It is particularly well-suited to savoury dishes, thanks to its firm, stringless flesh that holds together well in the oven.
Marina di Chioggia
This Italian heirloom variety has a squat shape and thick knobbly green skin. It makes a great witchy-looking decoration for Halloween, but the real revelation is its deliciously sweet flesh, which makes it a favourite for pumpkin gnocchi and ravioli.
Sugar or Pie pumpkin
As the name suggests, these cute little pumpkins are perfect for making pumpkin pie. They have dense, fibre-free, creamy skin, and a deliciously sweet flavour. In savoury dishes, they pair well with bold herbs like cilantro, rosemary, or sage, while in sweeter dishes they taste great with cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup.
A popular Japanese variety, the Kabocha has a rough but edible peel, and a round plump shape. It can be dark green or bright orange-red, and has firm, orange flesh. One of the sweetest varieties of pumpkin, its flavour has been compared to sweet potato, while its firm flesh holds together well in the oven. It is popular in both pies and savoury recipes, and it’s round shape makes it well-suited for stuffing.
One of the best-known types of squash, the Butternut squash has tan-coloured skin, a classical gourd shape, and silky-smooth orange flesh. Whether it counts as a pumpkin or not depends on who you ask, but the two are very closely related and have a similar flavour. It is sweeter than most pumpkin varieties, and makes a great alternative to pumpkin pie, but it is typically eaten in savoury dishes, and is particularly popular roasted.
How to store
When whole, pumpkins should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from moisture and pests. If you grow your own, you should leave them to ‘cure’ in the sun for a week to 10 days after cutting them from the vine. If there is a danger of frost, you can do this from inside a greenhouse.
Pumpkins will usually store for around 3 to 4 months. Exactly how long depends on the variety, but those with thicker skins will typically stay fresh for longer than thinner-skinned varieties. The best pumpkins for long storage are Jarrahdales, which have been known to stay fresh for over a year.
Once you have cut into a pumpkin, wrap any leftovers tightly and store in the fridge for up to 5 days. If you want to keep your leftovers for longer, you can purée them or cut them into cubes and store in the freezer.
If you can’t decide what to make with your pumpkins, you’ll find plenty of inspiration in our guide to the perfect food pairings for pumpkin.