If you consider pumpkins one of the sure signs of fall, you need to start pulling out your sweaters. Fresh, colorful pumpkins have started arriving in our stores, ready to be turned into jack-o-lanterns, seasonal centerpieces, or pies.
The pumpkin patches sprouting up at our stores offer a variety of fall classics:
Magic Lantern: These medium-sized pumpkins are great for carving or decorations. They’re uniform in size, usually 20 pounds or less, and have a beautiful, deep orange skin and a thick, sturdy stem. Although these are edible, they don’t make pies as good as some other, smaller varieties; their flesh tends to be more watery and stringy than a pie pumpkin.
Mini-pumpkins: A pumpkin in miniature scale, these are mostly used as fall decorations. Use them in a centerpiece, spilling out of a cornucopia or artfully arranged in a basket, with some colorful Indian corn. Or hand them to your children, along with markers, googly eyes, pipe cleaners and yarn, and see what art projects they create.
Mystic Pie: Grown mostly in New Mexico and Texas, these gorgeous, small pumpkins are bred for cooking. They have a sweet, smooth flesh that cooks up into a rich, flavorful texture that’s perfect for pie, breads, cakes or any other recipe that calls for pumpkin or even squash.
If you’ve never tasted a pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin, make this the year you try it. Using fresh pumpkin can be little messy and time-consuming, but the flavor is absolutely worth it. Fresh pumpkin tastes a little brighter, a little more intense, and really magnifies the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other spices.
We asked Barb Grey of GWR Produce, a major pumpkin distributor, how to handle a soft-shelled pumpkin like the Mystic Pie. She swears it’s easy, if you follow her directions:
- Cut the top off the pumpkin.
- Scoop out seeds and set aside. (These can be roasted separately.)
- Pour about an inch of water in a sturdy baking dish, like a brownie pan or cake pan.
- Place the pumpkin in the pan, upside down. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on size of pumpkin, or until flesh is soft.
- Remove from oven and scoop out flesh.
- Place cooked pumpkin in a colander, and let the watery juice drain away. The cooked, solid pumpkin that remains is ready to use in your favorite recipe.