Photo by Dawn Combs
It’s that time of year when folks are out in the pumpkin patches. Some want to haul home the largest pumpkin they can find, while others are looking for a specific shape or inherent character. If you grow your own pumpkins, perhaps you’re looking for the largest pumpkin because it is harder to steal off the front lawn—if it takes a Bobcat to do it!
For me, I look at pumpkin carving through eyes that are trained by my mother. I was taught never to waste anything. I must admit that I love to carve pumpkins and light them on a brisk, October night. Standing on the front walk with my family to admire everyone’s handy work should probably be enough, but I find myself devising ways to shave out just a little bit of the flesh for a batch of muffins without making the whole thing collapse.
The Great Pumpkin Compromise
I no longer grow pumpkins that have been engineered to grow big and fast. I will not be entering any behemoth competitions with my seed-catalog finds. Nope. I now search for the heirloom pumpkin that has more to offer than mere surface area.
To be more specific, I grow heirloom squash—or rather, members of the Cucurbita family. Thinking outside the smooth, orange sphere actually allows for quite a range of choices:
- There’s the Cushaw pumpkin, which has a goose-like neck and bulbous base. In a shade of green with fun stripes, it can be particularly creepy to carve. It also makes delicious pumpkin pie filling.
- Who could resist the pink skinned, warty beauty of the Galeux d’Eysines squash that can be found in the Seed Savers catalog?
- One of my favorites from the past couple years has been the Kakai pumpkin variety. I featured squash seeds in the October share of our farm’s Medicinal Herbs CSA. All squash seeds have high zinc content. Eating raw squash seeds greatly benefits our immune systems, but they’re also one of the best foods to feed to the men in our lives for prostate health. The Kakai pumpkin found at Johnny’s Selected Seeds is known for its hulless seeds, meaning if you carve the Kakai, the seeds will be easy to use right away without much more preparation than a good rinse.
Photo by Dawn Combs
Saving the Pumpkin
No, I just can’t get past the idea that something must be gained from the sacrifice of the carved pumpkin, so why not practice some important seed saving in the process? We should all be thinking about our family’s food security by working to preserve a store of seeds.
The heirloom squash and pumpkins in the Cucurbita family must be isolated from one another while growing only if they are within the same species. If you’re intending to save seed of two different varieties of Cucurbita maxima, for instance, it’s best to separate them by at least 1/2 mile or to hand pollinate them. With that little detail ironed out, you can harvest your squash for eating fresh or for winter storage to your heart’s content.
When it comes time to choose one of your beautiful specimens to carve, go for the best of the best. By sacrificing the one that is the size you like (maybe you only have three people in your family and would like a size that is perfect for one meal) you are practicing selective breeding. When you carve up this squash for display, promptly separate out the seeds from the flesh and rinse them clean. Lay them out to dry and then store them for next year’s harvest.
Whether you eat the seeds or save them, you can be sure that the fun of carving and lighting your squash of choice at this time of year will not be marred by your practical desire to never waste food. Happy Harvest!