Grow your own pumpkins and bake them too

Can anything beat homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dessert?Not if the pie is made from homegrown pumpkins. Growing and bakingyour pies from scratch is a fine family project, and if the richpumpkin flavor doesn’t surpass any pie you ever tasted, your senseof accomplishment will.

June is the time to start growing your pumpkins from seeds.Check catalogs and seed packets for varieties recommended forpies.

Last year, we grew several kinds in Sunset’s test garden, then sent the harvest to our testkitchen, where cooks used the puréed pumpkin flesh in scratchpies. In the tasting that followed, ‘Cinderella’ won top honors and’Small Sugar’ came in a close second. Both varieties have a rich,sweet pumpkin flavor and flesh that bakes well into a firm butcreamy filling.


‘Cinderella’ (also sold as ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’) and ‘Small Sugar’ are available from Nichols Garden Nursery(866/408-4851 or Territorial Seed Co. (541/942-9547 or


Choose a site in full sun. After the danger of frost is pastand the soil is warm, create mounds of soil about 6 inches high, 1foot in diameter, and 6 to 8 feet apart (remember, one pumpkin vinecan eventually occupy up to 500 square feet of space). Sow seeds 1inch deep, planting five or six per hill.

After the seeds sprout, thin to the two strongest seedlings.As they grow, steer new shoots in the direction you want them tocrawl.

When you water, try not to splash the leaves, since thisencourages mildew. Feed plants regularly with a balanced granularfertilizer or liquid plant food.

Protect the shell. As the pumpkins mature, slip a sheet ofplastic foam, a piece of plywood, or a shingle under each fruit.This will keep the pumpkin’s shell from touching the ground anddeveloping rot.

Pumpkins mature three to four months after planting. Whenthe shell has hardened and has a strong, even yellow color, harvestis close. In cold areas, after the first frost kills the leaves,cut the fruit from the vine, leaving at least an inch of stem.Elsewhere, harvest after the leaves and vines turn brown andbrittle.

Store pumpkins in a cool, dry place until you are ready toprepare them for pie.