Your Ultimate Fall Pumpkin Guide

A stack of pumpkins at a pumpkin farm with a white barn in the background.

Of the many symbols of the fall season, pumpkins rank at the top of the list. Not sure what type of pumpkins to buy and what to do with them when you get home? These tips will help you in choosing the best pumpkin for your activity.

Pumpkin Varieties

There are plenty of pumpkin varieties available today, some grown for carving, some for baking or cooking, and some simply for their good looks. With the ever-growing popularity of Halloween and decorating for the fall season in general, the choice of pumpkins has grown. Here are just a few popular varieties you are bound to find at your local grocery store, pumpkin patch, or seed vendor.

Jack O' Lantern

A grouping of pumpkins.

Yes, this variety is named after its main use: carving. The jack o' lantern pumpkin is typically large in size, about 8 to 15 pounds, and has a flat bottom. The inside is mostly hollow, making it easy to clean and carve. However, this isn't a good baking or cooking option; the flesh does not have a great flavor and the inside is usually stringy. But go ahead and toast the seeds for a tasty snack!

Cheese Pumpkins

This type is so named because it resembles a wheel of cheese with its short stature and dusty beige hue. Their exteriors have deep ribbing on them, making them a terrific option for autumn displays, but they are also suitable for cooking and baking.

Sugar Pumpkins

A single baking pumpkin on a wood table.

These are traditionally the best choice for making pies and soups. The sugar pumpkin is small in size, weighing about 2 to 4 pounds, and has a sweet, moist flesh.

New England Pie

This pumpkin is grown specifically for consumption. These pumpkins are denser than others, providing large amounts of flesh to use in all sorts of recipes.

Cinderella Pumpkin

A couple of Cinderella pumpkins in a pumpkin patch.

This pumpkin is an heirloom variety, with a deep orange exterior that's much bolder than standard jack-o-lantern pumpkins. With a flat shape on the top and deeply ridged sides, it's easy to see how this pumpkin was named after Cinderella's carriage in the classic fairy tale. This variety looks beautiful, but is also a good choice for baking with a sweet flesh.

Lumina Pumpkins

A close-up image of white pumpkins.

These are a unique choice with a white skin that's wonderful for painting, carving, and baking. The inside flesh is orange, making it a fun carving option that also cooks well.

Jack Be Little and Baby Boo

Baby white and orange pumpkins sitting on a wood pallet.

These are the tiniest of pumpkin varieties. Jack Be Little are orange, while Baby Boo is white. They are both about three inches in diameter and come with flat tops and distinct ribs. Not only are they adorable for decorating, but they can also be used for baking.

Baking Pumpkin

You can use this method to prepare your pumpkin for any recipe that calls for canned pureed pumpkin.

Step 1 - If you plan on using pumpkins for baking, you need to clean the outside before you get started. Use a vegetable brush to scrub any remaining dirt from the skin.

Step 2 - Once the skin is clean, use a large knife and carefully cut your pumpkin into two pieces. Take a large spoon and scrape all of the fibers and seeds from the shell. When the shell is clean, cut the two large pieces into smaller ones.

Pumpkins sliced in half sitting on baking sheets.

Step 3 - Place the small pieces on a baking pan so that the skin is facing up. Pour just enough water into the pan so that the bottom is covered. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.

Step 4 - Place the pan in the oven and bake at 325 degrees until you can easily push the tines of a fork into the pieces. Allow the pumpkin enough time to cool and then scoop the flesh off of the skin. If you aren't using your pumpkin until later, keep it in a cool area with a temperature around 60 degrees.

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted pumpkin seeds are not only a great tasting snack, but a healthy one too! After you've cut off the top of your pumpkin, use a spoon to scoop out the fibers and seeds. After pulling any stringy fibers away from the seeds, rinse them in cold water.

Pumpkin halves surrounding a bowl of pumpkin seeds.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the seeds on top to dry overnight. Season them the next day with your favorite spices and place the pan in the oven at 350 degrees, allowing them to roast for about 20 minutes until they're golden in color. Remove the pan and let the seeds cool. These tasty treats will last for about a week in an airtight container.

Carving Pumpkins

Step 1 - Decide on a design for your pumpkin and draw it out on a piece a paper. Choose a pumpkin that's large enough to fit your drawing. Keep in mind that a pumpkin with a smooth side will make transferring your design easier.

Step 2 - Before you begin carving, you can make the clean-up process much simpler by laying a garbage bag or newspaper over your workspace. Place your pumpkin on the surface.

Step 3 - Use a fine tip marker to draw a circle around the pumpkin stem. Take a sharp knife and carefully cut along the line. Pull the top off the pumpkin and place it aside. Next, take a large spoon and scrape all of the fibers and seeds out of the pumpkin. If you plan on using them for baking, place them into a dish and put them aside until later.

A hand carving a jack o' lantern.

Step 4 - Lay your design onto the skin of the pumpkin and secure it in place with some tape. Use a marker to trace over the design using enough pressure to transfer the image onto the skin. (If you're talented enough, you can also freehand the design.) Remove the paper from the pumpkin's surface. Take a small knife or a pumpkin carving tool and cut along the lines. As always, use caution when working with sharp objects and never let a child use a knife unsupervised.

Step 5 - When you're happy with your carving, you’ll have to preserve your pumpkin to keep it from disintegrating. Place your pumpkin in the sink and rinse it in cool water. Remove your pumpkin from the sink and pat it dry with a towel. Apply petroleum jelly to the edges of the carving to keep them from drying out. Be sure to display it in a cool area. If it begins to shrivel, soak it again in cool water for a couple of hours.

Step 6 - The safest way to light your pumpkin is to use a battery-operated tea light. Remove the pumpkin lid, turn on the light, place it inside, and then replace the lid. Once your lit pumpkin is ready, you’ll want to take photographs of your awesome jack-o-lantern to share with your friends and family. To get the clearest picture, place your pumpkin in a dark spot. Turn the flash off of your device to keep the camera from adding too much light to the photo. When you’re set, shoot away!