Pumpkin On a Stick

Use pumpkin on a stick in fall displays

Halloween is around the corner and people are starting to decorate with the many types of pumpkins available at the farmer’s market. The past 10 years have seen an explosion of all kinds of colors, sizes, and shapes of pumpkins, but I am in love with a diminutive one, which actually isn’t a real pumpkin, but an eggplant., specifically Ornamental Eggplant, (Solanum Integrifolium). For different types of real pumpkins, go to my Pumpkin Eye Candy post.

Pumpkin on a Stick seed packet at Botanical Interests

Ornamental or Food?

Falling in the eggplant family, the little pumpkins, Solanum integrifolium, are not really pumpkins, but an ornamental used in stir-fried Asian dishes. I grow this cute ornamental jack-o-lantern for jazzing up my Thanksgiving table and fall flower arrangements as it dries nicely and lasts a long time.

Native to Southeast Asia, it grows 3 to 4 feet tall with very large fuzzy leaves that grow from a purple thorny stem. It towers over other eggplants in my garden and the plant looks remarkably like Bed of Nails or Solanum quitoense, profiled in Plant Geek Alert.

Bed of Nails

Culture

Around for over 125 years which makes it an official heirloom vegetable, it has also been called Pumpkin Tree and Pumpkin Bush. Planted directly in full sun in your garden, the plant needs steady moisture and benefits from regular fertilizing as it grows large fast. Pretty soon, the insignificant blooms appear, followed by pale green nubby fruit that turn into their final pumpkin ribbed shape a few weeks later. Insects like to gnaw on the leaves as you can see but deer and rabbits leave it alone because of the wicked thorns.

Started from seed in my greenhouse, by early spring, the plants (with stakes) grow quickly and are ready to plant in the garden as soon as we are frost free
Pumpkin on a Stick growing in my veggie garden has thorns and can get tall (3-4 ft tall)

Harvesting

In late summer, the fruit changes to a scarlet color and when frosts start to hit, the eggplants turn their final rich orange color. You can harvest up to a dozen pumpkins on one plant. When you pick a stem of pumpkins for fresh use, cut the stems and use as is. If you want to dry the pumpkins, hang the entire stalk upside down in a cool dry location, removing leaves. This treatment prevents the fruits from sagging. Fruits will shrivel and the orange color will intensify. For eating, pick the fruits when orange and use in stir-fries.

Cutting my pumpkin on a stick plants
Remove all the leaves and hang to dry
Available in the fall at trader Joe’s

Pumpkin on a stick at the wholesale florist
Pumpkin on a Stick used in a seasonal arrangement

Tips For Making Your Carved Pumpkins Last

With Halloween around the corner, pumpkin carving skills need to be honed and executed on the most perfect orange sphere that you can find in the pumpkin patch. If orange isn’t your thing, there is a rainbow of colors to choose from. Check out my post on Decorating Pumpkins-Pumpkin Eye Candy.

White pumpkin owl family

If carving a pumpkin is too much trouble for a pumpkin that lasts for about a week, consider decorating your squash with succulents which will last for months.

Green pumpkins look good with succulents
Use drieds along with succulents
Spraying your pumpkin gold adds some glam
Wisps of grass add a good design element to this pumpkin

For how-to on decorating pumpkins with succulents, check out Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall and Pumpkin Treats-Decorating with Succulents.  

Picking the Best

When you are at the farm stand picking out your perfect specimen, be sure to look it over for soft spots and gouges into the outer skin. If either of these are present, your pumpkin will likely rot before you can start decorating it. Poke and prod the pumpkin all over to make sure it is healthy. Have a plan of what you would like to carve as that determines the shape, size and orientation(sideways, upright, upside down) of your final creation. If you want the pumpkin at its best on Halloween, don’t carve it too early. One day ahead or the day of is perfect so that the pumpkin holds up.

This makes a great sideways pumpkin

Picking out from a local market means you won’t get a bruised and battered pumpkin that traveled far from the farmer.

An outdoor work area is preferable as the job can get quite messy. Using brown/butcher paper or a trash bag underneath makes cleanup a snap.

Carefully paring away of the skin adds to the expression of this face

Making Your Creation Last Longer

  1. Make sure you thoroughly clean out and scrape the guts. The cleaner and drier you get with the gooey pumpkin innards, the longer it will last.
  2.  Rinse the entire pumpkin in cold water and dry.
  3. Spray the pumpkin insides with a solution of  1 Tablespoon of peppermint soap or bleach to a quart of cold water. The peppermint soap acts as an anti-fungal and the bleach kills any organisms that lead to rot and decay.
  4. Apply a thin coating of petroleum jelly to the outside to stop the pumpkin from drying out.
  5. Place pumpkin in fridge in a plastic bag to store overnight or place outside in the cold. The colder it is (not freezing!) the longer it will last.
  6. Rehydrate with a spray of water when you take the pumpkin out of the bag.
  7. Don’t use real candles as the heat and melted wax will hasten the demise of your pumpkin.
  8. To last the longest, paint your pumpkin.

For the best tutorial on carving, I use YouTube. 

 

Use a drill to punch holes in your pumpkin for a unique effect
Draw from a template if you want an elaborate design
Attach accessories to make your pumpkin unique

Painted face on the bottom of a pumpkin
Group your pumpkins for a bigger impact
Attach other fruits and veggies with toothpicks
Love the butterflies!!

Centerpiece Ideas for Thanksgiving

 

Pumpkin centerpiece
Pumpkin centerpiece

I have lots of pumpkins rattling around the house from Halloween decorating and wanted to repurpose one for the Thanksgiving table. Check out my post on Pumpkin Eye Candy to see how many amazing pumpkin heirlooms there are available in the local markets.

Jarrahdale Pumpkin
Jarrahdale Pumpkin

 

 I love the grey green color of the heirloom pumpkin Jarrahdale, but didn’t want to cut into it, so I built the flower arrangement on top. Jarrahdale is also a wide low pumpkin that is a great centerpiece height.

 

Pumpkin with oasis
Pumpkin with oasis

Jarrahdale pumpkins have a nice concave top and it was easy to cut my wet oasis, cover it with chicken wire, and nestle it into the top of the pumpkin. The chicken wire keeps the oasis from breaking up from too many large stems being inserted. Stick a few picks into the oasis pinning it to the pumpkin so the oasis doesn’t slide around.

Components

  • 1 Jarrahdale Pumpkin

  • Oasis with chicken wire and 2 picks

  • Eucalyptus pods and green seeded Eucalyptus

  • Yellow Pom Poms

  • Green Spider Mums

  • Blackberry Lily Seed Heads

  • Hypericum Berries

  • Nandina Berries

Pumpkin with seeded Eucalyptus and yellow pom poms
Pumpkin with seeded Eucalyptus and yellow pom poms

Start greening your oasis with short stems of foliage of eucalyptus. Here I used seeded eucalyptus and add some color with yellow pom poms. I picked these up at a local florist. But you could use cut greens from your yard and berries from the fields to cut your costs.

Pumpkin centerpieceContinue adding the yellow pom poms, hypericum berries or any other red berry, blackberry lily seed heads, and Eucalyptus pods. Top off with your larger flowers- the green spider mums, and spritz the botanicals to fully hydrate everything so it keeps until Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Centerpiece Keep the pumpkin in a cool dark place until ready to use and Give Thanks!!

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For decorating pumpkins with succulents, go to Pumpkin Treats-Decorating with Succulents.

"One Too Many" pumpkin variety has a white background and stippled veins
“One Too Many” pumpkin variety has a white background and stippled veins

For a Christmas pumpkin, go to Decorated Pumpkins with Berries, Pods, and Drieds.pumpkin with decorations

Centerpiece for Christmas

Thanksgiving Arrangement
Another Thanksgiving Centerpiece

 

Pumpkin Eye Candy

Gone are the days when you only had one choice of pumpkins – orange!! Amazed at how many types there are when I shop for pumpkins at either the farmers market or big box store, I love to pick different ones out. The variety that is available is staggering – spotted, bumpy, white, green, and everything in between.

Peanut Pumpkin

Peanut Pumpkin
Peanut pumpkin 

Take for instance the Peanut Pumpkin, Cucurbita maxima “Galeux d’Eysine”, shown above, which gets its common name from the distinctive peanut-like growths that develop on its shell. When I first saw this pumpkin, it stopped me in my tracks and I had to pick it up and touch it. Thought to be a cross between a Hubbard squash (Cucurbita maxima) and an unknown pumpkin variety, the species originated in the 19th century in the region of Eysine, France. Even though it seems an oddity, its sweet flesh can be used in cooking and is quite good. The fruit’s sugars seeping out and hardening on the surface causes the distinctive beige bumps.

Porcelain Doll

Porcelain Doll pumpkin
Porcelain Doll pumpkin

Porcelain Doll is a pumpkin developed to help raise funds for breast cancer research through The Pink Pumpkin Patch foundation. The designation of “pink” is  a stretch! – it is more like coral pink. This worthwhile foundation supports breast cancer organizations through donations made by U.S. growers from a percentage of sales of each Porcelain Doll F1 Pink Pumpkin grown.
Besides, their pretty “pink” exteriors, Porcelain Doll pumpkins have delicious, deep orange interior flesh, perfect for baked goods, soups or casseroles. These big beauties start out beige and then turn a standout coral/pink color as they mature.

Porcelain Doll pumpkin, picture from DP Seeds.com
Porcelain Doll pumpkin, picture from DP Seeds.com

 

Hungarian Gray Pumpkin
Hungarian Gray Pumpkin

 Decorating

Decorating with these pumpkins can really be fun, given the wide variety of colors, textures, and shapes. Go to Pumpkin Treats-Decorating Pumpkins With Succulents, to get some ideas. Succulents are a natural pairing with pumpkins.

Stacking pumpkins
Stacking pumpkins

Cooking With Pumpkins

You can grill, steam, bake, boil, or roast any pumpkin. Pumpkin also can be pureed and baked in bread or cake, or cooked in soup, etc. Pumpkin is a great source of nutrition (pumpkins are typically packed with dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper, manganese, vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus), and pumpkin seeds are full of nutrients, too!

Pumpkin Ice Cream with Ginger Creme Cookies
Pumpkin Ice Cream with Ginger Creme Cookies

Here is my recipe for great Pumpkin Ice Cream: 

1 cup fresh pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

5 egg yolks

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. salt

Pinch of ground nutmeg ( I added more than a pinch, because I love fresh nutmeg!)

1 tbs. or to taste spiced rum with coconut

Directions:

  • Whisk together pumpkin puree and vanilla. Chill in refrigerator.
  • In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups of the cream and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar. Cook until bubbles form around the edge, 5 minutes.
  • Combine 5 egg yolks, spices, and the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar in a separate bowl. Stir until smooth.
  • Remove cream mixture from heat and gradually whisk 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil.
  • Allow the custard to cool and whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours.
  • Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker(it will be quite thick), and follow the directions on your ice cream maker. The last couple of minutes of churning, add your bourbon or rum to taste.
  • Freeze until firm, at least 3 hours. Garnish with ginger crème cookies.
  • Makes 1 quart.