Pros: easy to grow, beautiful pumpkins, great for decorating and pie baking, taste great!
Cons: need room for vines, wish plants were a bit more prolific
It took me awhile to try growing pumpkins. However, the last several years with pumpkins in my garden have been most rewarding! Let me tell you why the Small Sugar Pumpkin is my favorite variety.
Sugar pumpkins have been around for a long time. These pumpkins vine and need some growing room. They are a traditional-orange color, and the pumpkins average about 10" in diameter. Weight varies, averaging between 5 to 8 pounds. The small sugar pumpkin is especially recommended for pie baking. The flesh is a nice orange color with a fine-grained texture, sweet to taste, and also stringless. These pumpkins also keep well once picked. The heirloom seeds I purchase from Burpee take 95 days to mature.
The seed packet suggests sewing the seed outdoors with 5 to 6 seeds in groupings 4 to 8" apart (later thin to the strongest three seedlings per grouping). Cover with 1/2" of fine soil, and the seeds will sprout between 7 to 14 days later. You can also start the seeds indoors in individual containers 3 to 4 weeks before planting them outdoors.
If you are interested in eating the pumpkin seeds, the Burpee seed packet has simple instructions for drying the seeds and cooking/roasting them.
My cousin, who lives in Vermont, first interested me in the idea of growing pumpkins. He grew enormous jack-o-lantern style pumpkins in a field. I live in Massachusetts suburbia, and wanted to try growing pumpkins on a smaller scale. I didn't want pumpkins the size of car tires, nor did I want the vines to run rampant across the yard.
As I researched pumpkins, I decided that I wanted my pumpkins to serve two purposes: 1) Be autumn decorations for the table or porch, 2) Later be used as ingredients for homemade pumpkin pie. For me, the Small Sugar Pumpkin was the answer. I've been successfully growing them for several years.
To give my pumpkins a head start on the shorter New England growing season, I plant the seeds indoors around mid-April. I save yogurt cups and punch three drainage holes in the bottom of them with an awl. (Empty yogurt cups stack great, too, condensing storage space.) I fill the cups with either a seed-starting soil mix, or I combine perlite with a denser soil (the perlite lightens the soil, making it easier for the seeds to germinate). After the yogurt cups are filled with soil, I place them into trays.
I plant two pumpkin seeds into each yogurt cup. Germination is good, with one or both of the seeds sprouting. I keep the seeds well watered until the soil is warm enough to transplant the pumpkins into the garden. A few days before I transplant the plants into the vegetable garden, I harden them off. I have a cold frame where I place the plant trays. Essentially, the cold frame is a box with a hinged Plexiglas lid. I keep the lid propped open during the day so that the plants can acclimate to their new surroundings, and at night close the lid. Before I had the cold frame, I would bring the trays of plants outdoors and leave them on the lawn in semi-shade during the day, and would bring them in at night.
I read an article that said pumpkins love to grow near mulch or compost piles. This makes sense because the nutrients formed by the composting material would leech into the surrounding soil. I have a composter located in the sun, and each year I plant the pumpkins on either side of it. They love it there.
Planting from year to year varies, but I average about eight plants in the garden. These pumpkins will vine, so make sure you place them where the vines won't interfere with things such as lawn mowing. My pumpkins are also growing about eight feet away from several rose bushes. These pumpkin tendrils will curl around the thorny rose stalks and climb the roses if I don't pay attention and redirect the growing path of the vine.
These pumpkins are advertised as being prolific. I'm not sure how Burpee defines prolific, but I find that I average one pumpkin per plant. I remember that last year I grew eight plants and only harvested five pumpkins. However, those five small pumpkins made three fantastic pumpkin pies after serving as my Halloween decorations. This year I grew nine plants and harvested six pumpkins and have two more ripening on the vine (one almost ready to pick and the other still more green than orange). I find that the pumpkins pull free from the vine when they are ready to harvest at the beginning of autumn.
In case you are wondering, these pumpkins are not always a round shape. Some of my pumpkins grow vertically oval. Also, don't think because the pumpkins have a tough outer skin that they are safe from critters. One of the smallest pumpkins on my porch was recently kidnapped by an enterprising squirrel. He had no trouble chewing the stem off and gnawing through the outer skin to reach the seeds inside. If you are choosing pumpkins to grow for jack-o-lantern carving, then these sugar pumpkins are probably not for you. They are too small, unless you specialize in miniatures.
Making Pumpkin Pie from Fresh Pumpkins
Usually I don't include cooking instructions or recipes in my reviews, but baking with fresh pumpkins and finding a good recipe is a bit different ... so are you ready for Pumpkin Pie Workshop 101?
1. Rinse the pumpkins and dry them. Remove the stem, then cut the pumpkins in half. Remove all the seeds and pulp (it doesn't take long). I use a large metal spoon.
2. I use a microwave-safe Pyrex 13"x9" glass dish. Place the pumpkins face down in the pan. (Flat side of pumpkin is against the pan, and the round side is in the air.) Cover the bottom of pan with one-cup of water.
3. Microwave on high for 15 minutes. If they need cooking longer, microwave the pumpkin pieces in 5-minute increments until the outer skin is soft to the touch. Sometimes you can see the skin beginning to sag downward, which is fine. (The object is to loosen the inside pumpkin flesh from the skin.) When done cooking, remove the pieces to a wire cooking rack to cool a bit before handling. (I use a large metal spatula designed for cooking on the grill. It is sturdy and fits great under the pumpkin halves.)
4. As soon as the cooked pumpkins are cool enough to comfortably handle, scoop the pumpkin flesh into a colander. If the pumpkin is chunky, mash it. (Using these sugar pumpkins, I never have to mash the pumpkin.) I set the colander inside a bowl so that the bottom of the colander is not touching the bottom of the bowl. Let the pumpkin drain for at least a full two hours. (I find that two hours works well for me. These sugar pumpkins don't shed a lot of liquid.)
5. Next, scoop the pumpkin into a measuring cup. Each pie uses two cups of fresh pumpkin. If desired, you can freeze the pumpkin for up to three months. (Make sure to freeze it in the quantity the recipe calls for.)
HERE'S THE RECIPE:
Dawn's Deep-Dish Fresh and Delicious Pumpkin Pie
2 cups -- mashed pumpkin (as prepared above)
1 cup -- sugar (I use Dominos)
1 tablespoon -- cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon -- salt
1/2 teaspoon -- ground cinnamon (I use McCormick's spices)
1/2 teaspoon -- ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon -- ground nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten
1/8 cup -- molasses (I use Grandmother's brand)
1 1/2 cups -- whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoon -- butter, melted (I zap it in the microwave)
Preheat the oven to 450-degrees F.
Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the pumpkin and mix. Add the beaten eggs, molasses, milk and melted butter. Stir together until well blended. I use a 9" Deep Dish pie shell (frozen from the supermarket ... yes, I cheat!). Pour the blended ingredients into the pie shell. Bake for 15 minutes. Then carefully cover the edges of the pie crust with foil to keep them from overcooking. Reduce the oven temperature to 350-degrees F. and bake for another 50 minutes. Remove the pie and cool it on a wire rack.
Burpee sells a packet containing 25 seeds for $2.65.
The Small Sugar Pumpkin is an excellent variety of pumpkin to grow. Not only can they be used as decoration, but they make for fantastic eating. My family ooohhs and aaahhs over my pumpkin pies when they are made from the sugar pumpkins in my garden! I highly recommend growing these whether you are a child, young at heart, or just love garden planting. I plan to grow this variety for a long, long time!
I hope you found this review useful.
Enjoy the day,
Please read my other reviews:
Zucchini Italiano Largo
Deluxe Pyramid Composter
Upside-Down Tomato Garden
Rubbermaid Big Max Storage Shed
Black & Decker Cordless Mulching Mower
Copyright 2008 Dawn L. Stewart