The Pumpkin Patch

By Deborah O'Toole

For Ambermont Magazine


October 2003

Article Contents:


Planting & Growing


Methods of Cooking

Health Benefits




Autumn is my favorite time of year; I’ve said it many times before. I have no qualms about stating I hate the summer months (I truly do), and I look forward to the first flush of autumn leaves every year. Of course with that comes Halloween and all of the associated traditions as well. But this is not an article about Halloween – it’s about the brilliant fruit known as the pumpkin.


Pumpkins are used widely as a Halloween decoration, but there are so many other uses for the plump little Jack O'Lantern. Just about every part of the pumpkin is edible (apart from the stem), and the hollow shell can also be used as a serving dish. Recipes associated with pumpkins are also wide and varied – one can make pies, cakes, breads, tarts, Crème Brule, pudding, cookies, soup, butter, dips, pancakes, cheesecake, ice cream, risotto, sauces and they can even be baked (like squash) as a side dish. The pumpkin seeds (to be found inside amongst the spaghetti-like innards) can also be salted, roasted and served as a snack.


While I don’t claim to be an expert on pumpkin-lore, my brief article will attempt to shed some light on the edible pumpkin, along with bits of history, planting and growing, varieties, methods of cooking, health benefits, trivia, links; and three pumpkin-based recipes.




Pumpkin History:

References to the pumpkin date back many centuries; they are believed to have originated in Central America, where seeds were from related plants were found dating as far back as 5500 B.C. The actual name pumpkin originated from the Greek word pepon, which translated into a “large melon.” The word pepon was elaborated by the French and became pompon, and the English changed this to pumpion. The American colonists then changed the reference to pumpkin, and thus it has remained.


Native Americans used to dry strips of pumpkin and make them into floor mats; they also dried pumpkin for food (Indians called the pumpkin isqoutm squash). The American settlers soon adopted the orange globes, and used them in a wide variety of dishes – from desserts to stews and soups. The colonists made pumpkin pies by filling a hollowed-out shell with milk, honey and spices, and then baking it. The leaves from the pumpkin plants were also used in salads, and the flowers were sometimes baked or fried. According to legend, pumpkins were part of the first Thanksgiving feast in 1620 with the pilgrims and the Indians.


The pumpkin also achieved mythic status with the legend of the Jack O’Lantern. This particular tale revolves around Halloween, but came from the Irish fable about a man nicknamed Stingy Jack. As the myth retells, Jack invited the Devil himself to have a drink with him. In keeping with his nickname, Jack did not want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin so that Jack could buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and placed the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross. The silver cross prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack ultimately freed the Devil under the conditions that he not trouble Jack for a year and should he die, not claim his soul. When Jack eventually died, God would not allow him into heaven because of his unsavory nature, and the Devil would not allow him into hell. The Devil sent Jack into the dark of the night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack placed the coal into a hollow turnip and has reportedly been roaming the earth with it ever since. The Irish once referred to the ghostly figure as Jack of the Lantern, and then shortened it to Jack O’Lantern.



Planting and Growing:

Pumpkin FlowerPumpkins are warm-season fruits that can be grown throughout most of the United States. Pumpkins are very tender (believe it or not), and the seeds do not germinate in cold soil. Very often, seedlings are wounded by the frost. Seeds should be planted only when all danger of a frost has passed, and the soil has had a chance to warm. Planting pumpkins for Halloween should occur from late May in the north; and early July in southern American locations. Note: If pumpkins are planted too early, they could soften and rot before Halloween rolls around.


Pumpkins that vine require 50 to 100 feet per hill; plant seeds one inch deep (with four or five seeds per hill). Make sure there is five to six feet between hills, spaced in rows of 10 to 15 feet apart. When the plants are established, thin each hill to the best of two or three plants. Semi-bush pumpkin varieties need to be planted one-inch deep, with four or five seed per hill. Thin to the best two plants per hill, allowing four feet between hills and eight feet between rows. Miniature varieties of pumpkins should be planted one inch deep, with two or three seeds every two feet in a row. Plant bush varieties one inch deep (one or two seeds per foot of the row), and thin to one plant every three feet; allowing four to six feet between rows.


Pumpkin plants should be kept clear of weeds on a regular basis by either hoeing or shallow cultivation. Pumpkins will need to be irrigated if a dry period in the season occurs, although they tolerate hot weather pretty well. If insecticides are used, they should be administered only in the late afternoon or early evening when the pumpkin plant blossoms are closed for the day. Bees pollinate the flowers as well, so it is safer to apply the insecticides after the flowers are closed so the bees are not killed. As new blossoms appear every day and bees land inside the open flowers, they will be safe from contact with any deadly sprays.


Pumpkins should be harvested when they have attained a deep, solid color (orange for the majority of the varieties), and when the rind feels hard. Harvesting usually occurs in late September or early October before heavy frosts begin. If the pumpkin vines die early from disease, harvest the mature globes and store them in a temperate, dry place until ready to use.  When cutting the pumpkins from the vines, wear gloves to avoid pricks from the stems, and use pruning shears or a sharp knife, leaving four inches of the stem attached. Snapping the vines can result in broken stems (or “handles”). Pumpkins without stems do not keep well. Try to avoid bruising or cutting the pumpkins while handling them.




There are several varieties and sizes of pumpkins. The tables below give a brief summary of the variations:


Small Orange Small (2 to 8 pounds)

Baby Bear

Small, flat shape; fine stem

Baby Boo

Turns a pale yellow at maturity

Baby Pam (or Oz)

Hybrid, smooth skin, immature yellow color, heavy stem, semi-bush


Large vine; looks like a buff-colored acorn


Smooth, white-skinned pumpkin

Cinderella (Rouge d’Etampes)

From France, a flat pumpkin with ridged fruit


Miniature pumpkin for decoration


Ribbed and smaller than Jack-B-Little


Miniature pumpkin, mainly for autumn decorations


Small pumpkin with long, dark green handles

Small Sugar (or New England Pie)

Standard pie-type pumpkin


Cross between Sugar Pie and Jack O’Lantern


Hybrid, ribbed, strong stem, bright orange

Sugar Treat

Hybrid, bright color, semi-bush


Deep orange with a sturdy handle

Winter Luxury

Netted skin, good for cooking



Standard Orange Medium (8 to 15 pounds)

Autumn Gold

Hybrid, yellow when immature, turns orange early in growing season


Hybrid, smooth skin texture

Funny Face

Hybrid, semi-bush

Ghost Rider

Large with a sturdy handle

Harvest Moon

Hybrid; mid-sized pumpkin

Jack Of All Trades

Dark orange color with smooth sutures

Jack O’Lantern

Smooth-skinned with thick, yellow flesh, roundly uniform


Medium-sized, good for pies and carving


Hybrid, semi-bush, good for pies and carving

Trick or Treat

Orange color, naked seeded, good for pies

Triple Treat

Seeded pie pumpkin without a hull


Dark orange with a smooth texture and light ribbing

Young’s Beauty

Dark orange with a hard skin

Standard Orange Large (15 to 25 pounds)


Deep orange, large

Big Autumn

Hybrid, yellow when mature

Connecticut Field

Used for canning, carving and stock feed

Gold Rush

Deep orange color , thick flesh with long handles

Gold Strike

Dark orange color, dark ribbing and handles; similar to but lighter than Howden

Half Moon

Tall and thick-fleshed

Happy Jack

Dark orange with a sturdy handle

Howden Field

Industry standard for Jack O’Lantern’s

Jumpin’ Jack

Dark orange, large and heavy

Mammoth Gold

Medium-orange color, with slightly ribbed fruit

Mother Lode

Large with sturdy handles, similar to Jumpin’ Jack

Pankow’s Field

Large and variable, with extremely large and long handles



Standard Orange Extra Large (25 to 60 pounds)


Dark orange color, sturdy handles


Rich orange color; medium ribs and sturdy handles

A&C Hybrid #300

Dark orange in color, dark rind, sturdy handles and smooth fruit

A&C Hybrid #500

Bright orange in color, round fruit with deep ribs, sturdy handles

A&C Hybrid #510

Deep orange color round-to-tall shape, deep ribs

Big Autumn

Similar to Autumn Gold (big brother)

Earl Autumn

Medium-deep orange in color, similar to Autumn Gold

Howden Biggie

Deep orange color, related to but larger than Howden


Hybrid, medium-orange in color, sturdy



Standard Orange Giants (50 to 900 pounds)

Big Moon PVP

Very large show pumpkin

Bix Max

Large carver

Dill’s Atlantic Giant

Frequently a contest winner at pumpkin shows



Methods of Cooking:

Besides being decoration during All Hallows Eve, pumpkins can be cooked in a variety of ways and eaten as a most delicious food. Some of the more common methods of cooking pumpkin are:


Boiling or Steaming:

The pumpkin needs to be cut into rather large pieces, and then rinsed in cold water. Place the pieces in a large pot with a cup of water (it is not necessary for the water to cover the pumpkin). Cove the pot and boil until tender (about twenty or thirty minutes). If you are steaming the pumpkin, steam-time averages twelve to fifteen minutes. You can check for doneness by inserting a knife or a fork into the flesh and if either slides in easily, the pumpkin is cooked. Boiled or steamed pumpkin can be eaten as is, or seasoned with salt, pepper or butter (similar to squash).



Baking pumpkin is again similar to the preparation of squash. Cut the pumpkin in half, clearing away the seeds and spaghetti-strings. Rinse thoroughly under cold water. Place the pumpkin (cut side down) on a large baking sheet, and cook at 350° for one hour, or until the flesh is fork tender.



Halve the pumpkin, and place cut-side down on a microwave-safe plate.  Cook on high for about fifteen minutes, checking for doneness. Cook longer if necessary.



Cook the pumpkin by any of the methods listed above, waiting until the flesh has cooled. Remove the rind using a sharp knife, separating carefully with your fingers as well. Place the peeled pumpkin in a food processor and puree until smooth. Side Note: Pureed pumpkin freezes rather well, especially in one cup portions. Frozen pumpkin will keep for up to one year.


Additionally, pumpkin puree can be used to make pies, soups, cookies, and breads. The seeds can be salted and roasted (one of my favorite treats).




Health Benefits:

Pumpkins are low in fat – without the added salt, sugar, flour or other cooking accompaniments. They are also low in calories and full of vitamins. One cup of pumpkin that has been cooked (boiled) drained and without additives contains:


Calories: 50

Carbohydrates: 12 grams

Cholesterol: 0

Dietary Fiber: 3 grams

Calcium: 37 mg

Magnesium: 22 mg

Fat: Less than one gram

Potassium: 564 mg

Protein: 2.5 grams

Vitamin A: 310% of RDA

Vitamin C: 20% of RDA


The bright orange color of pumpkin is indicative of a large amount of beta-carotene, which is one of the plant cartenoids that converts to Vitamin A in the human body. Current research claims that a diet containing foods rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing various types of cancer, protects against heart disease, and some of the degenerative facets of aging.





Pumpkin Pancakes


1 C all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 egg, slightly beaten

2 C pumpkin puree

½ C molasses (or maple syrup)

3 or 4 TBS buttermilk or milk

2 TBS unsalted butter (or margarine), melted

½ C chopped pecans or hazelnuts (optional)

Powdered sugar for dusting


In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside. In another bowl, beat the egg slightly and add the pumpkin puree, the molasses (or syrup), the buttermilk (or milk) and melted butter. Mix until smooth. Blend this mixture into the dry ingredients all at once until smooth. Allow the batter to rest for about thirty minutes. Then stir the nuts in to the batter, and add the extra tablespoon of buttermilk (or milk) if the batter is too thick. To cook the pancakes, spoon a heaping tablespoon of batter into a slightly greased and preheated griddle, or a heavy skillet. With the back of the spoon, flatten the batter to about ½” thickness. Cook slowly until the bubbles appear on the top and the bottom is a golden brown. Place the cooked pancakes on a platter, and place in a warm oven. Continue cooking the pancakes until all of the batter is used (the batter makes about twenty-four 3” pancakes. Serving suggestions: Garnish with powdered sugar or serve with your favorite pancake syrup.



Roasted Pumpkin Seeds


1 quart water

2 TBS salt

2 C pumpkin seeds

1 TBS vegetable oil or melted, unsalted butter


Before starting, it’s a good idea to have the seeds pulled out of the pumpkin, separating them from as many of the “spaghetti” strings as possible. Pick through the seeds and remove any cut or marred seeds. Preheat the oven to 250° F.  In a large pot, bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the seeds and boil for ten minutes. Drain, and then spread them on a kitchen towel or paper towel. Pat dry. Place the seeds in a bowl and toss with oil or melted butter, and then spread evenly on a large cookie or baking sheet. Place the pan in the preheated oven and roast for thirty to forty minutes (stirring about every ten minutes), until crisp and golden brown. Cool the seeds. Shell the seeds before eating. Note: If you want to keep the seeds until ready to eat, store in air-tight containers or zip seal plastic bags and refrigerate.



Pumpkin Dip

Recipe from the Pumpkin Nook


2 C pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)

1 C brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ginger

½ tsp. nutmeg

1 pkg. cream cheese, softened


In a large bowl, mix the pumpkin and cream cheese and blend well. Stir in the other ingredients, mixing together until very smooth. Refrigerate at least four hours, or overnight. Serve with crackers, celery or carrots. Tip: For a lighter dip, substitute sour cream for the cream cheese.




One of my articles wouldn’t be complete without the requisite bit of trivia!

  • Pumpkin flowers are edible.

  • Pumpkins are members of the vine crops family called cucurbits.

  • The largest pumpkin pie ever baked was more than five feet in diameter and weighed over 300 pounds. The pie used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and required six hours to bake.

  • Pumpkins are 90% water.

  • Pumpkins in colonial times were often used as an ingredient for the crust of the pies, not the filling.

  • Pumpkins range in size from less than one pound to more than 1,000 pounds.

  • The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,337 pounds, a record marked in 2003 from Charlie Houghton of New Hampshire.

  • About 80% of the pumpkin supply in the United States becomes available in October.

  • Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine.

  • Pumpkins were once used as a remedy for snake bites.

  • Pumpkins are fruits!

  • Pumpkins, gourds and other varieties of squash are all members of the Cucurbitacae family, which also includes cucumbers, gherkins and melons.


Pumpkin Links:

To learn more about pumpkins, try one of the following (and excellent) links:


Pumpkin Circle

Pumpkin Festivals

The Pumpkin Nook

The Pumpkin Master

Pumpkin Patch




©copyright October 2003 Deborah O'Toole


For Ambermont Magazine


Special thanks to my Mum, Joyce O'Toole, for her proofreading and suggestions.



This article is for entertainment purposes only and expresses the sole opinions and observations of the author. This article is not meant to be a historical essay on pumpkins, but rather a short piece about the generalities of the popular fruit, along with growing information, varieties, methods of cooking, health benefits, recipes, trivia and other links of interest.

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