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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!

Healthy Halloween Treats – It Doesn’t Have To Be Candy To Be Delicious

If buckets full of candy at Halloween leave you shuddering and your dentist rubbing his hands in glee, then you need to get into healthy Halloween treats for your kids. Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean it’s tasteless or that your neighbourhood kids will shun your home during ‘Trick or Treat’. Healthy eating and healthy treats can be just as much fun as store bought candy, as well as being a lot easier on your pocket and your health.

These treats are great for a Halloween party you are hosting, for a school snack, or to give out to the kids and their parents you know (give packaged goodies to trick or treaters you aren’t familiar with.)

Yummy Mini Pizza Mummies

mummy pizza

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Pizza is always a treat, and you can make mini pizzas that are healthy and look scarily like the head of a mummy. Spoon a small amount pizza sauce onto small rounds of pizza dough and use small olive slices to make the eyes. The mummification of the mini pizza comes in the careful placement of cheese strips across the ‘face’ to resemble the mummy wrapping. You can make up a tray of Pizza Mummies and bake them in an oven at 350ºF for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is all melted.

The great thing about making healthy treats is that your kids can help you in the kitchen and your Halloween festivities can turn into a fun filled afternoon of cooking with Mom.

Frightening Freaky Cheese Fingers

monster fingers

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A real spooky treat that children will gobble up in seconds. Using a white cheese like Mozzarella is perfect for this Halloween treat. Cut finger sized sections of Mozzarella cheese and carefully carve out the lines to represent the joints below the nail and the first knuckle. An adult should always perform this task, as you’ll want to use a sharp paring knife to get the best effect. Cut a small ‘finger nail’ out of a green pepper and use a dab of cream cheese to stick it onto your cheese finger. Absolutely a smash hit with kids and the only drawback is you’ll probably run out of them quickly!

The Phantom Toast

This is probably the simplest healthy Halloween treat ever. You can’t have a Halloween party without ghosts, or in this case toasts! Simply toast some bread and cut out a ghost shape when it is cool. Lather on some cream cheese and add a couple of olive sections for the oval mouth and scary eyes. Kids love working on this one as much as they love eating their ghost shapes.

‘Dem Bones, ‘Dem Bones…

gingerbread bones

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If you’re looking for sweet treats that are still healthy, and want to avoid cake and other candy, then why not meet in the middle with Skeleton Gingerbread. You can buy gingerbread cookie dough or even ask your bakery to create you a batch of gingerbread shapes without any decoration on them. When you get them home, you can use white icing or frosting and then pipe a skeleton onto the gingerbread for a sweet but relatively healthy treat.

Caring for your children means watching what they eat all of the time. You can create wonderful healthy treats for any holiday celebration. Getting your kids involved in the kitchen with you means so much more than a quick trip to the candy store to satisfy a sweet tooth.