For daily wit & wisdom, sign up for the Almanac newsletter.
From a DIY pumpkin centerpiece to pumpkin candles, see how to decorate with pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Plus, learn a little more about all the creative types of pumpkins, a true American native.
Pumpkins have deep American roots. The Pilgrims subsisted on these edibles during their harsh winters, thanks to the Wampanoag people, who helped them survive their first year at Plymouth Colony. The Pilgrims had gone hungry their first winter, turning up noses at the long-storing foods like pumpkin and squash. When summer came, the colonists planted the seeds given to them by their Native American neighbors.
The pumpkin (actually, a type of squash) is a native American crop, believed to have originated in Mexico at least 10,000 years ago. Along with maize (corn) and beans, which were domesticated much later, it joins the legendary Three Sisters of early Native American agriculture.
Indigenous Americans valued the pumpkin for its long storage life and the portability of its fruits and high-protein seeds. Some native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats, which they traded as food commodities. They also used empty pumpkin shells as storage containers.
And as stated above, Native Americans introduced the European Colonists to the many uses of pumpkin, which quickly became a common staple food, as suggested by this couplet from a Pilgrim verse written around 1633:
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon, If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.
Types of Pumpkins
Pumpkins aren’t just round and orange! Delight yourself and your guests with all those fun and creative pumpkins you’ll find at farmers markets, orchards and garden centers? How about the ones with growths that look like big zits or peanuts? I first saw ‘Knuckle Head’, a slightly warty orange pumpkin, last year at a local orchard that also sells pumpkins, gourds and corn shocks. Of course, I bought it, along with a half dozen bumpy gourds. I love the texture and it’s a great talk piece.
During my vacation travels last month, I found a pink pumpkin that was wallpapered with huge peanuts! Not really. The growths or warts strongly resemble the shape and color of peanuts. It’s a 220-year-old heirloom, ‘Galeux d’Eysines’ from France.
The warts are created by the buildup of excess sugars in the flesh. In other words, the more peanuts, the tastier the flesh is. Needless-to-say, I’m making pumpkin bread, cheesecake, and pie from it. And I’m saving the seeds to grow next year.
Another heirloom pumpkin I love is muted blue-gray ‘Jarrahdale’ from Australia. It’s ribbed and changes colors, from blue to musty peach, as it ages. The flesh is bright orange, dry and sweet. I’ve grown it for years, because it stores well and for its ghostly color.
5 Ways to Decorate With Pumpkins
1. Candlesticks: Make pumpkin candlesticks! You can also use small gourds. Just carve out the middle and place a glass votive inside.
2. Line Them Up! As well as putting pumpkins on your front steps or porch, how about lining them along the walk? Not pictured: You could also place mini pumpkins on the roof, balconies, steps, and windowsills!
3. A low centerpiece with mini-pumpkins, gourds, fall harvest, and votive candles.
4. Make a pumpkin centerpiece! Simply hollow out a big pumpkin or giant gourd, scoop the seeds (to save for eating!), and place a vase inside. You can simply add cut flowers from the store or supplement with grasses and flowers around your property (such as those fading hydrangeas).
5. Go all white! This year, unless you grew your own, go with all-white pumpkins! As you can see below, they make a statement. Pair with white mums!
Which Pumpkins are Edible?
Technically, ALL pumpkins are edible with a long storage life. However, if you’re just going for a culinary pumpkin, the small, round sugar pumpkins called “pie” pumpkins are best for cooking.
Pumpkin pie was a Thanksgiving dinner classic by the 18th century. Amelia Simmons’ pioneering 1796 “American Cookery” contained a pair of pumpkin pie recipes, one of which similar to today’s custard version.
In 1842, Lydia Maria Child, wrote her famous poem about a New England Thanksgiving that began, “Over the river, and through the wood” and ended with a shout, “Hurra for the pumpkin pie!”