Tag Archives: garden

Great Gourds! Pumpkin Varieties and How to Use Them

If you’ve wandered your local farmer’s market or pumpkin patch this fall, you probably discovered that there’s so much more to choosing your desire type than “give me big and orange.”

Today’s decorative pumpkins have gone far afield (see what we did there?) from the traditional Howden’s Field or fun, kid-size mini.

Get in on the “pick your perfect pumpkin” craze – you’ve got your pick: traditional; fun; even a bit, well…freaky. This autumn’s pumpkins are ready-grown and ripe for the choosing. Grab a gourd and eat, decorate and be merry! Below are some of our favorite varieties.

Howden’s Field

The gold (or would that be orange?) standard for the American Jack-o-lantern, Howdens are just the right size, shape, color and ribbing to use as decor. You probably carved Howdens as a child — and so might have your parents, and theirs.

However, we don’t recommend Howdens for pie baking. They tend to be stringy and have less pumpkin flavor than some sweeter varieties.

Pick up at least one Howden for your jack-o-lantern carving this year. Scoop well, scrape and cut a spooky shape into your gourd. Try Pumpkin Masters for a really cool look, or Google pumpkin carving templates to find the perfect freebie.

Lumina

Confession time: as loyal as I am to the good old-fashioned orange Curcurbita, I have a secret love for Luminas. This variety is a gorgeous solid white on the outside but plump and very orange on the interior.

Play up the contrast of white and orange by using your Lumina for your Halloween decor. Add a battery tea light and watch the spooky effect.

Don’t throw away those innards just yet: Lumina seeds are delicious baked with butter and salt. If you don’t plan on carving your pumpkin for decor purposes, use it in a pie or soup; Luminas have a fabulous flavor.

Queensland Blue

This unusual-looking gourd originated in Australia as its name implies. It was imported to the U.S. in the 1930s. You may have seen Queensland Blues at farmer’s markets and overlooked them as not being a “real” pumpkin. However, they are definitely Curcurbitas.

Queensland Blues have a lot of flesh to scoop, so you may want to forgo carving. Or try peeling away sections of skin only, without scooping the pumpkin out. Use a potato peeler or a woodcarving tool to put fanciful shapes on your Queensland Blue.

The flavor and texture of the Queensland Blue also makes it ideal for pies.

Jack-Be-Little

Just 3 or 4 inches across, Jack-Be-Littles are adorable and great for decor. Kids love them because they’re so easy to handle and carry. For your decor purposes, they create instant atmosphere for Halloween or Thanksgiving.

They’re tricky to scoop thin enough to carve (if you figure out a way, let us know!), but you can use a potato peeler to etch cool designs in your Jack-Be-Little’s skin. You can also cut off the tops, scoop the pulp and place a tea light in each for a pretty guest table.

They’re edible too. Try this yummy pumpkin recipe, for example. Mmm!

New England Pie

We’re sure you’ve guessed the use this pumpkin is famous for! The New England Pie pumpkin is an heirloom variety that’s perfect for baking fall treats.

New England Pie pumpkins are on the small side, usually no more than 3 to 4 pounds. Their hard skins make them very difficult to carve, so if you’re using this variety as decor, set it up uncarved.

There are many other pie pumpkin types, but the New England is the gold standard. You will definitely want a few for baking and stewing this Thanksgiving or for pumpkin cookies on Halloween.

Kakai

Get ready for the most amazing pumpkin seeds you’ve ever tasted. The seeds of this fun variety are hull-less and easy to eat. They’re among the most tasty pumpkin seeds when roasted. (And of course, this variety is simply gorgeous, with orange stripes and green mottling on the outside and firm orange flesh on the inside.)

Here’s how to make roasted pumpkin seeds from a Kakai: Cut pumpkin open and remove seeds; separate seeds from pulp in a colander under warm water. Set out on a paper towel and dry for at least two hours. Remove to a shallow pan and smother in melted butter. Sprinkle lightly with Mrs. Dash seasoning. Bake in a 300 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes. Cool and eat.

Big Max

Whoah! If you’ve never seen a Big Max, it’s time to acquaint yourself with one. Just don’t try to pick it up: these behemoths can easily grow to 100 lbs. and more.

Not technically a pumpkin but a “squash type,”  Big Maxes are cultivated primarily for show. (Their grainy flesh makes them a poor choice for eating.) Scooping out the flesh would be a thankless chore, but you can carve these giants and reach inside to scrape behind your cuttings.

DO NOT try to lift a Big Max by yourself. They are slippery and often are very asymmetrical, making it hard to keep a grip. Ask a friend for help.

Cinderella

A French heirloom variety, Cinderellas are so nicknamed for their striking resemblance to the famous fairytale coach. (Their real name is Rouche vif D’Etampes.)

The Cinderella has a long history in the U.S., with rumors claiming the gourd was served at the first Thanksgiving dinner in New England. However, most experts agree that the variety wasn’t officially introduced to the U.S. until the 1800s.

But they’re not just tasty. Cinderellas are pretty, with a very deep orange skin. Pick up inexpensive craft wagon wheels and a wooden support (Cinderellas are heavy!) at a craft store and display this fun variety as a fairytale coach.

Happy decorating…and eating!

Make a Dead Fairy…Plus BONUS Unicorn Skeleton

Brothers Grimm, look out – this is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Have you seen the dead fairies in jars or trophy cases that are popping up all over Pinterest? So cool! They look complex to make, but prepare to be surprised: I made my own dead fairy for our Halloween garden display in a creepy little twinkle. (And they call me butterfingers. Or worse.)

Here’s what I did to turn a pair of wings and a little plastic into something truly (wait for it)…Grimm.

You Will Need:

  • A small plastic novelty skeleton
  • Craft fairy or dragonfly wings (link below)
  • Doll tutu or other fairy-like outfit that will fit your finished prop
  • A small amount of faux hair
  • Hot glue gun and a glue stick
  • Matte brown spray paint and matte tan spray paint to distress your skeleton, if desired
Credit: Pinterest, Syren Song

NOTE: See the bottom of this article for my finished version.

ONE: First I gathered my materials. I already had a set of 5” plastic skeletons on a string. I cut one off the string and laid it aside.

Meanwhile, I had done some bargain shopping on the internet and found a small pair of craft fairy wings.  Make sure you’re buying a size that will fit your skelly!

I also harvested a few pieces of hair from an old wig. And (shhh) I stole a skirt from one of my daughter’s Barbies. I know. For shame.

TWO: My skeleton was already distressed-looking. If you have an all white

You can make a “pet” for your fairy too! Grab a model horse skeleton, diistress it with matte spray paint, etch it with a fingernail to rough it up, and add a plastic horn. Credit: Pinterest, Oddard.

skeleton, make it more realistic by taking black chalk and gently feathering it into the eye sockets, between the ribs, etc.

Another great way to distress “skeletons” is to dab brown or flat bronze spray paint onto a sea sponge. Then transfer the paint onto the skelly in dabs. Allow to dry completely, then dab accents with a slightly lighter color.

THREE: I heated up my trusty glue gun and put a dot on the wings where they joined. I pressed the wings onto the skeleton’s back. Then I placed the skeleton on its front, wings upward. The glue hardened within about three minutes.

FOUR:  I took a few strands of the wig hair, cut them to length and hot glued them to random spots on the fairy’s skull. This wasn’t necessary; I just thought it looked really, really cool.

FIVE: Next, I placed the skirt onto the fairy. I had to tuck the top under due to sizing issues, but the effect was still great. If you have any tulle, lace or other foofy material around, cut a bit and make a skirt out of that. Simply hot glue a seam and hitch it over your skeleton’s legs.

SIX: I placed the dead fairy in what we call The Grotto at our house. This is where we plan to have part of our spooky walk-through on Halloween. The fairy and other creatures will be spot-lit on the big night. You can put your fairy in a jar, pin it down onto a matte board taxidermy-style or prop it up anywhere.

dead fairy prop for Halloween

Tips and Alternatives to the Above  Method

  • Some truly inspired souls use modeling clay to create dripping flesh, pointy ears, etc. If you’re the artistic type, go ahead and try this. However, if you distress your skeleton as in Step 2 above, you don’t necessarily have to add anything to the fairy’s bones.
  • You can also hot glue tiny antennae on the skull (in fact, I may do this with my next dead fairy). Have one antenna bent down. You can use small cuttings of craft wire to create this effect. Ball a tiny bit of clay on the end of each and allow to dry before positioning your antennae and gluing them on.
  • The creepiness of this prop lies in the fact that most of us associate fairies with whimsy and sweetness. To see one lying there rotting in its tutu is a bit of a shocker – and makes for a great Halloween prop. Dress your dead fairy in bits of adorable draped fabric or, like I did, with doll clothes. You can dress your fairy male, female or androgynous.
  • Position the arms and legs so that the fairy looks like it has expired. If your miniature skeleton isn’t poseable, break off the arms and legs carefully and then hot glue into the position you want them.

Remember: you can always buy a creepy creation if you don’t have the time, materials or will to make one. Check out ebay and etsy for artists who will be happy to creep up a sweet memory just for you.

And now … I’m out of here. (waving wand)