Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Growing pumpkins for Halloween is a great family project. What you plan to do with them will determine which ones you grow. Large pumpkins that are suitable for use as jack-o-lanterns aren't used for cooking or baking because their flesh is watery and stringy. The stringiness will not combine well with the other ingredients for a smooth batter, so your pie will not be smooth and creamy. If you are using them for breads or muffins, the extra moisture makes batter too moist, so they will not bake correctly. They will lack the proper "crumb," or texture.
The best pumpkins for baking, especially that all-important pie, are smaller ones with firmer flesh and lower water content. The firm flesh mixes in with the flour, sugar and eggs, which creates a smooth batter. The low water content allows you to better control the moisture of the batter so that your pies and muffins will bake correctly and your finished product will have that desirable "crumb," or creamy texture in the case of pies.
What Are the Best Pumpkins to Bake With?
Pumpkins that are used for cooking and baking are known as culinary pumpkins. They tend to weigh less than 10 pounds, falling in the range of 5 to 8 pounds each. The vines are also shorter, only 4 to 6 feet compared to vines that bear larger fruit which can grow to 10 or 12 feet. Shorter vines are great for smaller gardens or even containers. Both heirlooms and hybrids can be grown and used for cooking.
Heirlooms are plants that are "open pollinated". If kept isolated from hybrids or other similar plants so that they don't cross-pollinate, they will produce seeds that will grow into plants that are identical to the parents. The advantage of growing heirlooms is that you can save the seed from year to year rather than buying new seeds every year. The taste of heirlooms is usually superior to hybrids.
Hybrids are plants that are the result of deliberate cross-pollination between two different varieties. The reason this is done is to combine the best features of both parents into a new plant variety. Desirable features include disease resistance, uniformity of fruit and increased yields. The drawbacks are that you must purchase new seeds each year and the fruit may not be as flavorful as heirlooms.
Heirloom pumpkin varieties that are commonly grown for cooking and baking include Small Sugar, Baby Pam and New England Pie. Hybrid pumpkins that are suitable to cook with include Howden's Field, Autumn Gold (an AAS variety) and Triple Treat.
Can You Use Other Kinds of Squash to Bake With?
Everyone knows and loves the heirloom pumpkin, Rouges Vif d'Etampes, also known as the Cinderella pumpkin, but it is not a true pumpkin. Pumpkins are classified as Cucurbita pepo. Cinderella pumpkins are classified as C. maxima, which is considered to be a variety of winter squash. Nevertheless, they can be used for cooking and baking. Another heirloom favorite that is not a true pumpkin is Musquee de Provence, classified as C. moschata, also a variety of winter squash. Musquee de Provence is likewise a good culinary squash. Both have firm flesh and low water content. And those pastel pumpkins that you see everywhere? They are called, improbably, cheese pumpkins and classified as C. moschata. Not only are they wonderful decorative squash, but you can cook with them too.
What Kind of Pumpkin Is in the Cans?
Did you ever wonder what kind of pumpkin is in those cans of puree that fill the grocery shelves each fall? The answer, surprisingly, is winter squash, not pumpkin. Libby, the largest producer of canned pumpkin, uses Dickinson pumpkins, a variety of butternut squash (C. moschata). Other winter squash that can be substituted include hubbard squash, butternut squash and turban squash all of which are C. maxima and all of which have the necessary firm flesh and low water content necessary for baking. .
How to Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree
No matter which pumpkin or squash you grow, making puree is easy.
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Wash the fruit and cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds and stringy parts. Lay the halves face down on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until soft.
Cool the halves and then scoop out the cooked flesh. Puree it in a food processor. The puree can be used immediately or frozen for later use.
Here's a hint to make your baking easier: Freeze your puree in one-cup portions so that you only have to defrost the amount of puree that you need each time that you bake.
When all is said and done, pumpkins are just a variety of winter squash. So if you are unable to grow or buy culinary pumpkins, you can substitute other kinds of winter squash in your recipes.
© 2013 Caren White
Caren White (author) on November 04, 2014:
Lady Guinevere, you are so welcome! I was shocked to learn what was in the cans. Made me look at winter squash in a whole new way. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Debra Allen from West By God on November 03, 2014:
Thanks for this information. I make my own pumpkin puree too. I never knew what was in the can called pumpkins and now I know. Thank you so much for writing this hub.
Caren White (author) on October 25, 2014:
Meg, I'll work on that! Thanks for reading and commenting.
DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on October 25, 2014:
I always wondered how pumpkin pies were made. Just wish we could TASTE the hubs, to see if I would like it. Great information, thanks.
Caren White (author) on September 26, 2014:
Poetryman, ever tried pumpkin bowling? Thank you for reading and commenting.
poetryman6969 on September 26, 2014:
To me, pumpkins are for chunking. I prefer sweet potato pie. But your hub looks good in any case!
Caren White (author) on September 11, 2014:
Olgsinquito, I have made a pumpkin pie out of "real" pumpkin and honestly didn't taste a difference. Maybe it was all of the spices. Thank you for reading and commenting.
ologsinquito from USA on September 11, 2014:
I didn't know that winter squash was used for canned "pumpkins." Most of us have probably never tasted real pumpkin pie.
Caren White (author) on September 10, 2014:
I was the same way until I started cooking them. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 10, 2014:
Helpful information. I was ignorant about this for years. I just thought a pumpkin was a pumpkin until I started growing them. LOL
Caren White (author) on August 30, 2014:
Pawpaw, we've had a cooler than usual August here in NJ so I am in the mood for fall early this year, that includes pumpkin pie. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Jim from Kansas on August 30, 2014:
This is good information to have this time of year. I'm ready for some good ole pumpkin pie.
Caren White (author) on August 26, 2014:
You're absolutely right. Squash is Cucurbita moschata and pumpkins are Cucurbita pepo so it's not surprising that they would taste differenty. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on August 26, 2014:
Thanks for the very interesting insight into the pumpkin pies that we usually make over the holidays. For years, I've thought I should bake my own pumpkin to make my homemade pies. Last year, I did, and used a regular pumpkin. The taste was good but quite different from what I was used to. I had no idea that the Libby's canned pumpkin was actually Dickinson pumpkins, a variety of butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata).
Caren White (author) on November 15, 2013:
Flourish, I didn't know what was in those cans either. Finding out inspired me to write this hub. Thanks for reading and pinning!
FlourishAnyway from USA on November 15, 2013:
This was interesting, as I never knew what exactly was in those cans nor did I know how to make puree. Voted up ++ and pinning.
Caren White (author) on November 14, 2013:
Pearl, I love multi-use items. Because pumpkins keep so well (low water content), you can use them for both Halloween and Thanksgiving. Thanks for reading and pinning!
Caren White (author) on November 14, 2013:
JG, you are so ambitious! One pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving is all I can manage. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on November 14, 2013:
Great information, I had no idea the canned pumpkin was actually squash! I bought a small pumpkin that weighs about 5 pounds. I just thought it was cute and used it as decoration. It's great to know I can also make a pie from it--thanks for sharing this ;) Pearl
Voted Up++ and pinned
JG11Bravo on November 14, 2013:
Quite useful and concise. I make a good half a dozen pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, so this just may yet come in handy.