Many years ago when my daughter was first born we'd receive WIC coupons from the local office for food to help with nutrition and such. Those coupons were only good for certain things but you could buy just about anything from the local farmers market with them. Breezing the halls of the farmers market was an interesting thing because at the time I didn't do a lot of cooking and the only thing the farmer's market sold was items that needed to be cooked. As fate would have it I made a choice and bought a pumpkin. Once home I had to figure out what to do with it so I made Pumpkin bread and the rest as they say is history.
I've now been making Pumpkin bread every fall for 20 years without missing a single season. Since then I've also learned a great deal about food and Pumpkins specifically. As most people I started out buying Jack-o-Lantern pumpkins because this is the quintessential pumpkin that everyone recognizes. Little did I know they don't make great food. Cooks Illustrated a magazine I respect greatly maintains the idea that it's just not worth the effort to cook raw pumpkins but I beg to differ. Had I stopped at the Jack-o-Lantern pumpkins I would agree but there are better pumpkins out there when you have food in mind which is why we're here today.
Shortly I'll be outlining the 3 pumpkin varieties worth considering for food and referencing the pumpkin people usually try to make food out of unsuccessfully – the Jack-o-Lantern. There are many many varieties of pumpkins but half of them are branches from the Jack-o-lantern tree so we'll cover them together. Then there's the smallish Sugar Pie Pumpkin, the Long Island Cheese Wheel and the Cinderella. The latter two have limited availability although popularity of the Cinderella seems to be on the rise if only slightly.
Flavor: Of course flavor will be number one. Contrary to popular belief not all pumpkins taste the same and why would they? Not all squash taste the same so it makes sense.
Texture: Texture is important when making puree out of the meat.
Cookability: This is more important than you think. I've cooked pumpkins every possible way looking for the method that gives me the most meat, the best flavor and texture. Some pumpkins are more cookable than others. Pumpkins that are too small or too large are difficult to cook while either maintaining flavor or getting a decent ratio of meat to work involved. See my method on how to cook a pumpkin a bit later in this article.
Longevity: Because I only use fresh pumpkin in my bread and I worry about availability more than most. Most pumpkins disappear from the store about Halloween time. This is a problem for me because I like cooking pumpkin bread for more than the two weeks leading up the Halloween. There are vast differences between pumpkins in regard to longevity.
Availability: Availability is important because if you can't buy the variety to begin with it doesn't matter how good it is. Some pumpkins like Jack-o-Lantern are always available around Halloween but ONLY right up to October 31st. Try to get one the next day. Others just aren't distributed or grown much.
Cost: How much do I usually have to pay?