No, it’s not the ghost of pumpkins past, come to remind you of all those you’ve put under the knife. Pumpkins with a ghostly pallor are increasingly popular as Halloween decorations, and Casper (Cucurbita maxima ‘Casper’) is one of the best for carving, painting, and pie-making. Though the skin is white—sometimes with a shadow of blue—the flesh inside is thick, orange, and sweet. It’s just the right size (10 to 15 pounds) to pick up and haul into the kitchen or add to an autumn tableau. In short—it’s booo-tiful.
Common name: Pumpkin
Botanical name: Cucurbita maxima
Plant type: Vegetable
Height: 1 to 2½ feet
• Sun: Full sun
• Soil: Rich, humusy loam
• Moisture: Medium
•Mulch: Use straw or hay to retain soil moisture and provide a place for fruits to rest, or place boards under fruits.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: Pumpkins are heavy feeders, so use plenty of compost and other organic fertilizer.
• By seed
Pests and diseases
• Cucumber beetles, aphids, squash bugs, and squash vine borers
• Powdery mildew, bacterial wilt, blossom end rot
• Plant pumpkin seeds outdoors when the soil temperature is at least 65°F. Plant several seeds together in a hill, and space the hills about 3 to 5 feet apart.
• The young flowers and seeds of the pumpkin are edible, too. Use the blossoms in soups, salads, sautéed dishes, or tempura. Scoop out the seeds, dry them, toss with oil and salt, and bake until crisp.
All in the family
• ‘Casper’ does have a bit of an identity crisis: it is sold as both Cucurbita maxima and C. pepo, a name that usually refers to summer squash or ornamental squash. Winter squash and pumpkins can be either C. maxima or C. moschata, depending on where you look.
• Many cucurbit species were domesticated in North or South America. Native Americans were growing squash and pumpkins when European settlers arrived.
Where to buy
• LocalHarvest, Santa Cruz, CA, 831-515-5602, www.localharvest.org
• Reimer Seeds, Mount Holly, NC, www.reimerseeds.com
• St Clare Heirloom Seeds, Gillett, WI, www.stclareseeds.com
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Cucurbita maxima ‘Casper’ courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)