When the leaves transform into a livelier array of colors and the air gusts a little cooler, pumpkins begin to make their seasonal debut at local markets and farm stands. Few things are as versatile as the pumpkin—what else can you use for both cooking and décor?—and perhaps not surprisingly, there are hundreds of varieties. Some are excellent for cooking, while others are better suited for display. Although some pumpkin varieties are cultivated in distant terrain, such as France, it is believed all varieties have their origins in ancient America.
The Cinderella is an heirloom, its sobriquet deriving from a resemblance to the famed pumpkin in the beloved classic tale. This variety had the honor of being a guest at the table of the second Thanksgiving dinner. The Pilgrims chose them to cultivate in the colonies, but they are now a French heirloom, more correctly named rouge vif d’Etampes. The delightfully bright orange appearance makes it a popular choice for the hearth. And it does tend to jolt the imagination into working overtime; it’s not a grand stretch to visualize it growing larger and larger still, and being fitted with a set of wheels and a horse to pull it. Voila!
Another French cultivar is the Halloween in Paris. Its yellow flesh and robust flavor make it a favorite for cooking, but it has a tendency to be a bit watery. The Fairytale pumpkin, or musquée de Provence, also hails from la belle terre and changes, not into a carriage, but from dark green to a tawny color as it matures. Its fine texture makes it suitable for baking.
Perhaps your seasonal decor will include lesser known varieties and heirlooms. After all, you don’t have to travel to France to get them. Many pumpkin patches and farms carry a wide selection of unusual and variously colored gourds, some of them quite striking and surely destined to be the belle of the balustrade.
Text Cynthia Reeser Constantino