The arrival of the first seed catalogues has coincided with the end of pumpkin season. My friend Clare had a bumper crop of pumpkins (Curcurbita spp.) at her farm garden in Ontario, and her cold cellar is full of the smooth, round globes waiting for winter pies. She gifted me with a lovely specimen that sat on my porch Halloween night, and now is on the dining-room sideboard. Its smooth surface and orange glow tempt me to run my hand over it frequently, and reminds me that such perfection isn’t entirely natural.
Plant hybridizers have worked for decades making traditionally attractive pumpkins such as ‘Connecticut Field’ (damseeds.ca) in sizes from mini to monstrous, with blemish-free skins, shell colours ranging from ghostly white to blazing red, and thick meaty interiors. But it’s news to me that breeders are now working to make ugly pumpkins with all manner of warts and bumps.
The dramatically warty, pale beige French heirloom pumpkin ‘Brode Galeux d’Eysines’ (seedsavers.org) comes by its wart-covered exterior naturally. The prominent, peanut-shaped warts almost entirely cover the surface of this reportedly delicious pumpkin. The ‘Red Warty Thing’ pumpkin (gurneys.com) is vivid scarlet-orange with full wart covering, though the warty lumps are less raised and more under the skin (and that may be the effect of some breeding work).
Tampering with pumpkin genetics has drawn on warty genes and produced hybrid strains with colours, shapes and surface textures that were previously bred out of cucurbits, but now considered desirable. The Knucklehead strain (veseys.com) is tall and dark orange, with a smooth surface interspersed with irregular dark green warts on a 12- to 16-pound (5.5- to 7-kg) squash. ‘Goosebumps II’ (stokeseeds.com) is globe-shaped, eight to 12 pounds (3.5 to 5.5 kg), with a bright orange shell and generous clusters of orange and green warts. (The large wart clusters might be hard to carve around, but ‘Goosebumps II’ would be quite a conversation piece on your verandah.)
Plant breeding and marketing over the past century has encouraged the perception that all pumpkins are shades of orange. But heirloom species (and new hybrids) now more readily available show us that there is quite a lot of diversity in pumpkin colours. ‘Fairytale’ (territorialseed.com) is an open-pollinated, deeply lobed, pale oak to mahogany brown pumpkin squash with a squat shape and meaty interior. The heirloom Cinderella pumpkin, ‘Rouge Vif D’Etampes’ (damseeds.ca), is almost tomato red, while F1 hybrid ‘New Moon’ (stokeseeds.com) is eight to 12 pounds (3.5 to 5.5 kg) with smooth, rice-white skin and firmly attached dark green handles.
And then, there is the deep category of pumpkin sizes. Suffice to say, there is a pumpkin to fit every nook and cranny of your garden, from ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ to the compact F1 hybrid ‘Windsor’ pumpkin (both from halifaxseed.ca), small enough to grow in a patio container, and producing short vines with six-inch (15-cm) orange fruits.
Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and warts are back on the pumpkins. I’m for anything that gives us more choice and greater selection.
More that may be of interest: