Heirloom pumpkins are an exciting choice for beginning gardeners. Unlike the typical orange pumpkins that we all love to carve, heirlooms offer a fascinating variety of new pumpkins to choose from.
These pumpkins are often prized for their unique shapes, colors, flavors, and historical significance.
Keep reading to discover what makes heirloom pumpkins so special.
What are heirloom pumpkins?
Like other vegetables grown from heirloom seeds, heirloom pumpkins are grown from seeds that have been saved for several generations of gardeners and farmers, much like family heirlooms.
These pumpkins come in all sorts of colors and their tastes vary, too. People have been growing these pumpkins for generations, passing down seeds from one gardener to another.
The term “heirloom” also emphasizes the idea that these pumpkin varieties have a heritage and tradition associated with them.
Many gardeners save the seeds from these pumpkins because of their unique qualities, specifically their shapes and flavors.
The taste of heirloom pumpkins is often more intense compared to common hybrid seed pumpkin varieties, which are generally grown for their consistency and size.
There is nothing quite like the flavor of pumpkin puree made from an heirloom pumpkin!
History of heirloom pumpkins
Heirloom pumpkins are native to the Americas, and their origins can be traced back to ancient Mexico. Indigenous peoples, such as the Aztecs and the Mayans, were among the first to cultivate pumpkins.
Explorers such as Christopher Columbus brought pumpkins, along with other New World crops, to Europe during the late 15th century. They were initially grown as ornamental plants in European gardens.
Pumpkins quickly became a staple in the diet of early American colonists. They were adaptable, easy to grow, and provided a reliable source of food during the harsh New England winters.
Over time, pumpkins in North America were cultivated and adapted to local conditions, leading to the development of many new pumpkin varieties.
Families and communities saved seeds from their favorite pumpkins, both for carving and for cooking purposes, and these seeds were passed down through generations.
Heirloom pumpkins have played a significant role in American culture, particularly during the Thanksgiving holiday. They are associated with the story of the Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a feast, which included pumpkin dishes.
As time passed, many of these original heirloom pumpkins were replaced by more commercially viable varieties. Luckily for us, however, several heirloom pumpkin varieties have been preserved by gardeners and seed savers, who recognize their value.
Heirloom pumpkin shapes and colors
In addition to the traditional carved pumpkin shape, heirloom pumpkins can be oblong and elongated, ribbed and lobed. Some heirloom pumpkins have a shape that is squashed in appearance, with a flattened top and bottom.
This whimsical shape reminds us of the fairy tale Cinderella pumpkin coach. There is even an heirloom pumpkin called the Cinderella pumpkin!
We all look for the traditional orange pumpkin, so popular for carving each fall, but their are many other colors to choose from with heirloom pumpkins.
In addition to the orange variety, you will find them in yellow, red, blue and green. White heirloom pumpkins are popular for their elegant look and you can even find multicolored varieties!
Taste of heirloom pumpkins
Heirloom pumpkins are known for more pronounced flavors compared to common commercial pumpkin varieties. They often have a sweet and nutty flavor making them perfect for muffins, pies and pumpkin bread.
Some varieties of heirloom pumpkins have a dense and creamy texture with a rich flavor. Use these in soups and custards.
Their flavors can be more complex and may even have unique notes. For instance, the Musquee de Provence has a nutty, sweet flavor with hints of melon, while the Jarrahdale heirloom pumpkin has a slightly sweet, savory taste with a hint of honey.
When using heirloom pumpkins in your recipes, it’s a good idea to taste a small amount of it to see how you feel about the specific flavor profile and determine how it will complement your dishes.
Whether you’re making savory soups, sweet pies, or other recipes, heirloom pumpkins can add a new dimension to your menus.
Growing heirloom pumpkins
Homegrown pumpkins thrive in well-drained soil and love sunlight. You can start with just a few seeds in your garden. They love to grow in hills or mounds.
As the vines grow, consider providing support for the pumpkins using trellises. Proper spacing and occasional pruning can help to keep your plants healthy.
Harvest your pumpkins when they reach their mature size and have developed a deep, consistent color. The specific harvest time varies with the type you grow, but is typically in the late summer or early fall.
Heirloom pumpkins decor
Decorating with heirloom pumpkins can add a charming and rustic touch to your home or outdoor space during the fall season. Here are a few creative ideas for incorporating heirloom pumpkins into your decor:
- Use them to decorate a front porch. Their unique shapes really add curb appeal!
- Transform heirloom pumpkins into lanterns by carving out the center and placing a candle or LED light inside. The soft, warm glow creates a cozy atmosphere for evenings.
- Place small heirloom pumpkins at each place setting for your fall gatherings. You can even use them as unique place card holders by adding name tags or ribbons.
- Transform your fireplace mantel into a fall focal point by placing heirloom pumpkins alongside autumn decorations, candles, and seasonal items.
These are just a few ideas for using heirloom pumpkins for decorating. The sky is the limit!
Saving seeds from heirloom pumpkins
One of the coolest things about heirloom pumpkins is that you can save their seeds. Unlike hybrid seeds, heirloom pumpkin seeds generally grow “true to type” or “true to parent.”
This means that when you save and plant seeds from a specific heirloom pumpkin variety, the resulting plants will closely resemble the parent plant in terms of appearance and flavor.
Note that while this is typically the case, there is always an chance of cross-pollination with other pumpkin varieties if they are grown nearby.
When you grow an heirloom pumpkin, save a few seeds to plant next year. This helps keep the tradition alive and saves you money on buying seeds each year.
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Popular heirloom pumpkin varieties
There are many popular heirloom pumpkin varieties, each with its own unique characteristics in terms of flavor, appearance, and history.
From the iconic Cinderella pumpkin, reminiscent of the fairy tale carriage, to the rustic French Musquee de Provence with its ribbed, orange skin and melon-like aroma, each heirloom pumpkin has its own story to tell.
Some popular heirloom varieties include these:
- Cinderella Pumpkin (Rouge Vif d’Etampes) – Named for its resemblance to the pumpkin in the Cinderella story, this French heirloom has a deep red-orange color and sweet, dense flesh. It’s ideal for pies and fall decorations.
- Jarrahdale Heirloom Pumpkin: Originally from New Zealand, this pumpkin has a unique blue-gray skin and sweet, slightly nutty flesh. It’s well-suited for both roasting and baking.
- Musquee de Provence: Hailing from France, this pumpkin has a rustic, ribbed exterior with a deep orange color. Its flavor is rich and sweet with hints of nutmeg and melon. It’s often used for pies and desserts.
- Connecticut Field Pumpkin: Dating back to the early 1700s, this pumpkin is known for its classic round shape and deep orange color. It’s often used for carving and making pumpkin pies.
- Galeux d’Eysines: This French heirloom is known for its warty, bumpy skin and sweet, smooth flesh. Use it in soups and stews. It is also prized for its decorative appearance.
- Long Island Cheese Pumpkin: This heirloom, dating back to the 1800s, has a flattened, wheel-like shape and a pale tan to orange color. Its smooth, sweet flesh is excellent for pies and soups.
- Red Kuri Squash: While technically a winter squash, Red Kuri has the appearance of a small, red pumpkin. It has a sweet, chestnut-like flavor and is perfect for roasting and soups.
- Baby Boo: These tiny, white pumpkins are perfect for decorating and crafting during the fall season. They make adorable additions to table centerpieces and wreaths.
- Red Warty Thing: As the name suggests, this pumpkin is covered in warts, giving it a unique and textured appearance. Its flesh is sweet and it’s often used for baking.
- Queensland Blue Pumpkin: Originating from Australia, this pumpkin has a distinct blue-gray skin, and sweet and nutty orange flesh. It’s ideal for roasting, baking, making soups, and crafting delicious pies and desserts.
These are just a few of the heirloom pumpkin that will bring unique character and history to your garden and kitchen.
Where to buy heirloom pumpkin seeds
You can often find heirloom pumpkin seeds at local gardening stores or online. One of my favorite places to look is my local Farmer’s Market and a small independent garden vendor.
Choose beginner-friendly varieties to start with. Etsy has a great supply of heirloom pumpkin seeds to try.
Heirloom pumpkins are a delightful way to explore the world of gardening and add some charm to your autumn festivities. Give them a try, and you’ll be amazed by the wonderful shapes and flavors they offer!
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- Card stock or printer paper
- Computer printer
- Load your printer with card stock or printer paper.
- Choose portrait layout and if possible "fit to page" in your settings.
- Print out and add to your garden journal.
- Use it as a shopping list when deciding what type of pumpkin seeds to plant.
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