With October comes the cooler temperatures, falling of leaves, and of course pumpkin carving time. For the perfect carved Jack O Lantern, be sure to familiarize yourself with this list of the best pumpkins for carving.
When it comes to choosing pumpkins for carving projects, not all pumpkins are equal. As a matter of fact, there are over 100 varieties of pumpkins. Some are the edible type that is perfect for pumpkin desserts, and others are better for decorating purposes or pumpkin carving.
Before you head out to your yearly visit to the pumpkin patch, or harvest your own pumpkins from your vegetable garden, it’s a good idea to know how a little bit about the different types of pumpkins.
Keep reading to find out why carving pumpkins are different, and what types of pumpkins are available for your Halloween project.
The difference between a carving pumpkin and a pie pumpkin
Have you ever noticed, in the grocery store, that their pumpkins are marked as “pie pumpkins” or “carving pumpkins?” If so, you are luck, since this removes some of the guesswork in your quest for the perfect pumpkin.
What is the difference between the two?
Carving pumpkins have thinner skins. This makes them easier to slice into. They also have less guts on the inside, and the guts are more grainy and far stringier. This makes them easier to clean before carving.
Pie pumpkins are made for baking and they are usually smaller, and rounder with thicker skins. They also have darker, more orange flesh, that is fine grained. This makes the finished pies more appealing in looks and texture.
Pie pumpkins are sugar pumpkins, which makes them sweeter than carving pumpkins. They belong to the winter squash family and can be prepared in similar ways of cooking.
Are all pumpkins edible?
It is nature’s complete food!
The longer answer is that while yes, you can eat any type of pumpkin, some do taste better than others when it comes to cooking and baking!
All varieties taste like pumpkin but some have a strong flavor and others are more subtle and sweeter.
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Can you carve any type of pumpkin?
Once again, the simple answer is yes. If it’s a pumpkin (or gourd) it can be carved.
However with pumpkin carving you will probably want to select a pumpkin that is made for carving. This means it will be one with thin flesh and stringier guts which will be easier for you and your kids to carve and clean.
All pumpkins will start to rot and break down once carved. Look for those with deeper colors and thick skins to get ones that will last longer.
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Types of pumpkins for carving
Now that we know about carving and pie pumpkins, let’s learn about some pumpkins that are the perfect choice for carving. (You can print this list out in the project card at the bottom of the post.)
Can you carve small pumpkins?
Most people head for medium to large sized pumpkins and generally avoid the smaller ones. Their small size makes it easier to slip with a knife when they are carved.
However, they are easier for the kids to handle and if you stick to painted designs instead of carved ones. you can end up with very cute pumpkins and happy kids.
List of medium sized pumpkins for carving
If you plan on carving a simple Jack O Lantern design, you will likely enjoy carving a medium sized pumpkin. Their round shape and pretty color makes them ideal for this project.
Some popular medium sized pumpkin varieties are:
- Autumn Gold Pumpkin – Easy to handle size of 7 – 10 pounds with a pretty orange – gold color and very easy to carve.
- The Hobbit Pumpkin – Weighs about 10-12 pounds and is very popular in the Western states
- Jack O Lantern Pumpkin – This smaller heirloom variety was bred specifically for carving into Jack-O-Lanterns. The skin is a deep orange color and is ribbed. This type weighs between 7-10 pounds and stands about 10 inches tall.
- Magic Lantern Pumpkin – Is slightly taller than wide, medium orange and weighs 16 to 24 pounds – just the right size for Jack!
- Sunlight Pumpkins – This guy is a bit smaller at 5- 8 pounds. The color of the skin is bright yellow instead of the traditional orange.
- Giant Polar Bear Pumpkin – If you are looking for a white pumpkin that still carves well, try this variety.
Larger sized carving pumpkin varieties
Perhaps you are looking for a pumpkin that will be the background for a more elaborate pumpkin carving. One of the larger sizes will definitely be a better fit. These weigh about 15- 25 pounds.
Some larger sized pumpkins to look for are:
- Gold Rush pumpkins – if you like a larger Jack O Lantern, this guy weighs about 15-35 pounds. They can be a bit harder to carve the time spent will have your carving make a statement.
- Connecticut Field pumpkin is round and orange. It has smooth, slightly ribbed skin that makes it perfect for carving. These pumpkins weigh 15-25 pounds. They were grown by the Native Americans before colonization and were part of the original Thanksgiving feast.
- Jaune De Paris Pumpkins – If you have an elaborate and large design in mind, this guy might be the choice for you. This yellow skinned pumpkin can weigh in excess of 100 pounds!
Tall oblong pumpkins for carving
Pumpkins that are tall and oblong tend to be stringier inside. This makes precise cuts more difficult but these pumpkins are also lovely to display and worth the extra effort.
The height of these pumpkins allows you to carve designs that are taller than they are wide.
Try one of these varieties:
- Big Max Pumpkins – This guy is the king of the pumpkin patch with its bright orange, round to flat-round shape and weighing over 100lbs.
- Dickinson Pumpkin – Weighs between 10 – 40 pounds and has a roundish elongated shape and a light color.
- Howden Biggie – This large Jack-O-Lantern, is much taller than wide with an almost rectangular shape. It is dark orange in color.
Best white pumpkin varieties
The color of these luminous pumpkins gives a spooky look to any Jack O Lantern design.
Readers often ask me “can you carve white pumpkins?” The answer is a definite yes! Normally, white pumpkins are easier to carve than orange ones. Your knife will go right through it.
Also if you are going for an no-carve look, or a painted pumpkin, white pumpkins are easier to paint and look lovely in any display.
Some varieties are:
- Lumina White Pumpkins – The skin of white pumpkins is less stringy and this makes it easy to carve them. The size is 10-12 pounds. Carve them right before displaying since these pumpkins don’t last well.
- Moonshine Pumpkins – A wonderful small, white pumpkin that is very uniform, and smooth-skinned. They average 8-12 pounds. The pumpkins have long green handles and are perfect for decorating or carving.
- Polar Bear Pumpkins – This extra large pumpkin has bright white skin. The big guy weighs in at 30 – 65 pounds making it perfect for an elaborate design.
- Valenciano Pumpkins – The snow-white skin of this ribbed pumpkin makes it nice for carving. It grows to about 11 – 15 inches across and 7 inches tall.
Best caving pumpkins with long handles
In pumpkin carving designs, a pumpkin with a long stem (handle) makes the pumpkin easy to hold onto when you are carving.
If you have an opening from the top to insert your light source, a pumpkin with a long handle makes it easy to keep removing the top to light the pumpkin.
Look for these varieties of long handled pumpkins:
- Wolf pumpkin – This round pumpkin has a very long handle to hold while carving. It weighs 15-25 pounds and has a deep orange color with moderate ribs.
- Howden Pumpkins – This traditional old time favorite for carving weighs in at 18 -26 pounds. It has an intense bright orange color with defined ribs and strong handles for your Jack O Lanterns. The shape is round and slightly tall
- Tom Fox Pumpkins – This pumpkin is medium sized, averaging about 12-20 pounds and has a deep orange color. Their handles are fantastic – fat, long and sturdy!
Don’t forget the gourds
Gourds are from the same family as pumpkins and their shape makes them a fun carving medium. They often have necks that makes them easy to hold when carving.
Their smaller size makes them a bit difficult to work with so they are suitable for more experienced pumpkin carvers.
Avoid those with warts and go for the smooth skinned type. Some to choose from are:
- Speckled Swan Gourd – This variety has a long crook neck and flat base which makes it perfect for carving. The large bulb grows to about 8 inches and the sweeping neck can grow to 16 inches long!
- Bottled Gourds – These gourds have a hard, smooth shell. This hard outer shell lends itself to excellent carving. Bottle gourds can also be turned into drinking vessels. Only edible when immature. Before carving a bottle gourd, you must dry it. This can take up to 6 months.
Can Cinderella Pumpkins be carved?
The unique shape of Cinderella pumpkins makes them ideal for decorating. A common question I get asked is “Can you carve a Cinderella pumpkin?”
Cinderella pumpkins can be eaten and carved! Their design makes carving more difficult, however, since there is not as much flesh to carve.
While their plump and flattened shape might make traditional pumpkin designs harder to carve. their coach-like shape makes them idea for turning the pumpkin into a coach.
For a colored Cinderella variety try Blue Jarrahdale. It weighs about 6-10 pounds and has a pale gray bluish skin.
Tips for picking the perfect pumpkin for carving
Now that you know some varieties that are available, let’s figure out out to pick the perfect carving pumpkin.
With so many types out there, where do you start? Keep these tips in mind when you head to the pumpkin patch.
- When you choose, focus on the visual appeal of the pumpkin. Do you like the color and shape? Does it suit the carving design you have in mind? You are half way there!
- Be sure the pumpkin is healthy and free of any decay or bad spots. These will make the pumpkin rot more quickly.
- Look for a pumpkin with consistent color throughout.
- Does the pumpkin have a thin skin? This is needed, particularly for elaborate carved designs. You should be able to easily get the knife through the shell. Overly-thick shells can be dangerous!
- Press on the pumpkin to make sure it is very sturdy. Any give will mean that your pumpkin might rot quickly.
- Try to get a pumpkin with thinner walls since this will allow the light from the inside to shine through. Tap the pumpkin and listen for a hollow sound. Lifting the pumpkin will tell you about the walls, too. Heavy pumpkins normally have thicker walls.
- Be sure the pumpkin has a flat base so it will sit well.
- The last tip – carry the pumpkin home from the base and not the stem. You don’t want this to come off in your hand!
If you have previously thought that pumpkins were only for decorating, or that pumpkin pie comes from a can, you have likely never tried growing your own pumpkins.
Now that you are armed with this list of pumpkins for carving, it’s time to look for some seeds for next year’s garden! You can have your own pumpkin patch, ready to provide you with all the pumpkins to carve that you will need.
Admin note: this post for the best pumpkins for carving first appeared on the blog in October 0f 2013. I have updated the post to add all new photos, more information about carving pumpkins, and a video for you to enjoy.
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