It's the perfect time for cozy sweaters, warm boots, and pumpkin in every form imaginable. While you can’t beat a classic pumpkin pie with whipped cream, pie made from a can of puree just isn’t the same as a pie made from homegrown pumpkins. Here’s how to grow the perfect pumpkin for a truly homemade pie!
How to Grow Pumpkins
The word ‘pumpkin’ is a general reference to many types of winter squash, including butternut squash. Winter squash are easy to grow and don’t require much care. There are several different types of pumpkins that are best for cooking and baking, so you can try a few and find out which ones you like the best. They’re not quite the same as the ones we use for carving, so don’t just grab any old seeds from the garden center. The ones grown for carving are usually quite hollow with thinner flesh and very little flavor. They also tend to be pretty stringy, and no one wants a stringy pie!
Winter squash varieties do require a fairly long season and need up to 100 days to mature, so you’ll want to make sure you plant them by late May. They do like full sun and will require a fair bit of space to spread, but they don’t necessarily have to occupy a huge part of your garden. If planted near the edge of the garden, you can train the vines out over sidewalks or the lawn. Squashes, in general, like rich, well-drained soil—so if you have compost, mix it in before planting.
All types of winter squash are best direct-seeded into the ground. The soil should be above 70 ̊F before planting. If you plant on a small hill, the soil will warm more quickly and seeds will germinate faster. Plant about 4-5 seeds per hill, about 1 inch deep. Most winter squashes tend to produce well, so you may not want to plant all of the seeds in your packet at once. Winter squash are quite thirsty, so make sure the plants don’t dry out. The first few flowers may not produce any fruit, but be patient, they’ll come! If they are sitting right on the soil, you may want to put a piece of heavy cardboard underneath each pumpkin to prevent rot and decay.
You’ll know they’re ready to pick when they’ve reached their appropriate color, and the skin is hard and difficult to puncture. Ideally, they shouldn’t be harvested until the leaves and stems have died back. Cut pumpkins off the vine with a sharp knife, leaving 2-3 inches of stem. If you can, let the harvested pumpkins cure in the sun for a week to toughen their skins, and then store in a cool dark place.
What Kind of Pumpkin Should You Grow?
When you’re shopping for seeds, look for packets that are labeled "pie” or “sugar”; those will be best for cooking.
Cinnamon Girl is great for smaller spaces, with vines only growing 24-30 inches. Weighing 3-6 pounds each, they have a smooth texture and sweet flavor, perfect for baking.
Cinderella is a beautiful heirloom variety from France. It is popular for soups because it has a mildly sweet flavor and thick custard-like flesh. These can weigh up to 20 pounds.
Baby Pam matures in just 95 days with each pumpkin reaching about 3 pounds. It is a popular variety for pie. The sweet, sugary flesh cooks down to a perfectly smooth pie filling.
New England Sugar Pie weighs 4-5 pounds, with a sweet fine-textured flesh that’s perfect for pies.
Long Island Cheese has pretty pale orange skin and resembles a wheel of cheese. The flesh is deep orange and moderately sweet.
Classic Pumpkin Pie
Most everyone has their own favorite pie recipe, some have been handed down through generations of North Dakota families. If you haven’t got a family favorite yet, here’s a classic recipe to try out.
This recipe is for one pie. When you’re getting ready to cook your pumpkin, set the seeds aside and save them for roasting.
1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
3 ½ tablespoons cold water
2 cups cooked & pureed pumpkin (you can roast it or boil it—try both ways!)
1 (12 oz) can of evaporated milk
2 Eggs, beaten
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
½ teaspoon ground Cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground Ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
Option 1 - Boiling:
1 ½ pounds of raw pumpkin will yield 2 cups pureed. Slice the pumpkin in two halves and scoop out the seeds and stringy portions. Cut it into chunks and place in a pot. Add 1 inch of water and heat until it boils. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until tender. Drain, cool, and remove the peel. Return pumpkin to the pot and puree with a blender or food processor.
Option 2 - Roasting:
Slice the pumpkin in two halves and scoop out the seeds. Brush the flesh with oil, and then place flesh down on a baking sheet. Pierce the skin a few times to let the steam escape. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the skin is easily pierced with a fork. Remove pumpkin from oven and let cool 10 minutes, then scoop out the flesh and puree in a blender.
Making the Pie:
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
1 tablespoon oil per cup of cleaned seeds (use an oil with a high smoke point, like avocado)
1 cup pumpkin seeds
Seasoning of choice
Try these seasoning ideas:
There’s no wonder why everyone goes crazy for pumpkins when fall arrives! With so many ways to eat it—and just as many ways to decorate with it!—there are plenty of reasons to grow your own.