What pumpkins are not good to eat?

Pumpkins are a popular fall vegetable, known for their use in pies, soups, breads and other tasty dishes. However, not all pumpkins are created equal when it comes to flavor and texture. Some varieties are better suited for carving jack-o-lanterns rather than eating. So how do you know which pumpkins are not good for cooking and eating? Here are some quick answers to common questions about pumpkins that should not be used for culinary purposes:

What are decorator/carving pumpkins?

Decorator or carving pumpkins refer to pumpkin varieties grown specifically for carving jack-o-lanterns and other decorative uses. These pumpkins are bred to have a thicker outer rind that is more durable and carves well. The flesh inside tends to be stringy and watery with little flavor. Examples include Howden, Connecticut Field and Big Max pumpkins.

Why aren’t carving pumpkins good to eat?

Carving pumpkins lack the flavor, texture and nutrition found in pie pumpkins. Their flesh is fibrous, watery and sometimes bland or bitter tasting after cooking. The thick outer shell also makes carving pumpkins difficult to cut open and process. Overall, carving pumpkins make poor choices for eating.

What are pie pumpkins?

Pie pumpkins are pumpkin varieties grown specifically for culinary use because of their plump, sweet flesh that bakes well. They are smaller, weighing 3-8 pounds on average, with a thinner rind that is easy to peel. The deep orange flesh has a richer, sweeter flavor compared to carving pumpkins. Popular varieties include Sugar Pie, Cinderella, New England Pie and Baby Pam.

Why are pie pumpkins better for cooking?

Pie pumpkins were bred for their stellar cooking qualities. Their flesh has higher sugar content and denser texture that purees smoothly. Pie pumpkins tend to be less stringy and watery when cooked, making them ideal for pies, baking, soups and other dishes. The smaller size and thin skin also make them easier to prepare compared to large carving pumpkins.

Characteristics of Pumpkins Not Suitable for Eating

Many pumpkin varieties meant for carving or ornamental use should not be eaten. Here are the key characteristics that identify pumpkins not recommended for cooking:

Thick, tough outer rind

Carving pumpkins have been bred to have a thick, hard rind that can withstand carving. Rind thickness can range from 1-2 inches. This makes these pumpkins very difficult to cut open and prep for cooking. The thick rind also retains more of the bitter flavors.

Minimal flesh & lots of stringy fibers

Inside a carving pumpkin, you’ll find a large seed cavity filled with pulp and stringy fibers rather than dense, meaty flesh. Cooked, these stringy fibers turn unpleasantly slimy. There is not much usable pumpkin puree yield from the minimal flesh.

Watery texture

The minimal flesh found in carving pumpkins has a watery, sometimes grainy texture lacking the rich, smooth consistency desired in cooking. When cooked, the watery flesh makes for a thin, watery puree.

Lack of sweetness & pumpkin flavor

Carving pumpkin varieties are not bred for sugar content and flavor like pie pumpkins. The flesh tends to be bland or slightly bitter tasting, lacking the signature pumpkin sweetness. This makes them ill-suited for pies, breads, soups and other dishes.

Large size & heavy weight

Many carving pumpkins can weigh upwards of 10-20 pounds. Their massive size makes them impractical for cooking. All that effort for minimal usable flesh and poor flavor is not worthwhile. Go for a smaller 3-5 pound pie pumpkin instead.

Popular Pumpkin Varieties Not Suited for Eating

Here is an overview of some common carving/decorative pumpkin varieties that should be avoided for cooking:

Howden Pumpkin

Howden pumpkins are one of the most popular carving pumpkins, prized for their distinct ridges and bright orange color. They have a thick, hard rind reaching up to 2 inches thick. The stringy, watery flesh lacks flavor appeal.

Connecticut Field Pumpkin

This large, round pumpkin can weigh 15-20 pounds on average. It has a sturdy, upright handle perfect for carving. The flesh is fibrous and watery with very little flavor.

Big Max Pumpkin

As the name suggests, Big Max pumpkins are giants, typically weighing 50-100 pounds each. They have a very thick rind and minimal stringy flesh making them difficult to eat.

Atlantic Giant Pumpkin

This special variety can set world records with pumpkins weighing up to 1500-1600 pounds. Needless to say, these giant pumpkins are all rind and absolutely not meant for eating.

Jack-Be-Little Pumpkins

Although cute and miniature in size, these 3-5 inch diameter pumpkins lack flesh. They are best used for crafts and decorations only.

White Ghost Pumpkin

White in color and luminescent when carved, White Ghost pumpkins have a chalky textured flesh that lacks flavor appeal. The hard rind also makes prep difficult.

Cinderella Pumpkin

While Cinderella can refer to a French rouge vif d’Etampes heirloom pie pumpkin, some sellers also market an ornamental Cinderella variety for carving that should not be eaten.

Key Differences Between Carving & Pie Pumpkins

This table summarizes the key traits that differentiate carving/decorative pumpkins from pie pumpkins:

Trait Carving/Decorative Pumpkins Pie Pumpkins
Purpose Carving jack-o-lanterns & decorative use Eating – pies, baking, purees, soups, etc.
Rind thickness Thick rind, 1-2 inches Thin rind, 1-2 inches
Flesh texture Stringy fibers, watery Dense, smooth, creamy
Flesh flavor Watery, bland or bitter Sweet, rich pumpkin flavor
Average size 10-20 lbs, often very large 3-8 lbs, small
Popular varieties Howden, Big Max, Connecticut Field Sugar Pie, Baby Pam, New England Pie

Best Uses for Carving & Ornamental Pumpkins

While carving and decorative pumpkins may not be the best for cooking, they have many other fantastic uses throughout the fall season. Here are some of the best ways to utilize pumpkins not suitable for eating:

Carving Halloween jack-o-lanterns

This is the #1 use for carving pumpkins. Their thick rind makes an excellent canvas for carving intricate decorative designs and spooky faces that will last through the weeks leading up to Halloween. Opt for a large, round variety with a sturdy stem to carve.

Crafting fall decoration

Paint or attach embellishments like glitter and sequins to ornamental and miniature pumpkins to use as beautiful fall decor. Arrange them on mantels, countertops, front porches or anywhere that needs some seasonal charm.

Making pumpkin planters

Cut out holes in whole pumpkins to insert pots or directly plant flowers, succulents and herbal plants. The pumpkin shell makes an excellent biodegradable planter pot.

Using as bird houses or feeders

Clean out pumpkins thoroughly and cut out holes or openings to transform them into cute Halloween-themed bird houses or bird feeders filled with birdseed.


Don’t let those leftovers go to waste after Halloween. Put the used pumpkin remains into your compost bin rather than the trash. The shells, seeds and flesh will break down to make nutrient-rich soil amendments.

Finding the Best Pie Pumpkins for Cooking

If you want pumpkins specifically for cooking up tasty pies, soups, breads and other recipes, choose varieties bred for flavor over carving capability. Here are some tips:

Look for small, squat sizes 3-8 lbs

Pie pumpkins are smaller and squatter in shape compared to large carving pumpkins. Opt for a 2-4 pound pie pumpkin for easier prep and cooking.

Select deep orange colored pumpkins

Avoid pale orange or yellow tinted pumpkins, which indicate less sweetness and flavor. Pick pumpkins with a vibrant, deep orange hue.

Inspect the rind

Choose pumpkins with thin, tan rinds that are free of blemishes or decay. Avoid very thick, tough rinds which make prep difficult.

Check the bottom

A flat base indicates a more upright, sturdy pumpkin. Pumpkins with uneven bottoms tend to tip over easily.

Read seed packet or label

If buying directly from a pumpkin farm or produce stand, check that the variety is labeled as a pie pumpkin for cooking.

Talk to the grower

Ask questions to ensure you are selecting the best culinary pumpkin varieties for eating. Reputable sellers should know the traits of their produce.

Buy pumpkins labeled for pies

Grocery stores and markets will typically label pie pumpkins with intended use. This takes the guesswork out of choosing the best ones for cooking.

Best Pie Pumpkin Varieties for Baking

While there are many excellent pie pumpkin varieties, here are some of the most popular types with superior flavor and smooth, velvety texture when cooked:

New England Pie

This heirloom variety has a distinct ribbing and small flattened shape, weighing just 3-5 pounds. The flesh has a sweet, nutty flavor.

Sugar Pie

As the name hints, this pumpkin has super sweet, smooth-textured flesh with excellent pureeing texture. It is a great all-purpose baking variety.

Long Island Cheese

This is one of the best tasting pie pumpkins with dense, rich orange flesh and a smooth consistency when cooked down. It originated from Long Island, NY.

Baby Pam or Baby Bear

The miniature 2-3 pound size makes it perfect for smaller servings. The smooth, nutty flesh bakes nicely into pies or tarts.

Winter Luxury

This heirloom variety dates back to the late 1800s. Its creamy textured flesh has a sweet, fruity taste that makes delicious pies and baked goods.


This French heirloom variety is sometimes called “Rouge Vif d’Etampes.” The bright red-orange flesh has a very high sugar content and impeccable baking qualities.


Originally from Australia, this moderately-sized blue-gray skinned pumpkin has a wonderful texture and flavor for cooking.

Small Sugar

The 3-6 pound size fits smaller kitchens. It has a classically sweet, smooth pumpkin puree texture perfect for pies and custards.

Musquee de Provence

This French heirloom has a gorgeous squat, flat shape with deeply ribbed tan skin. The creamy textured flesh has a rich, earthy flavor.


This French heirloom variety has a distinct pumpkin spice flavor. The flesh has a very dense, creamy texture when cooked.


With so many pumpkin varieties out there, it can get confusing trying to select the best ones for cooking. But there are some clear differences between pumpkins meant for carving versus eating. Carving pumpkins tend to be large with thick rinds and stringy, watery flesh that lacks flavor appeal. Pie pumpkins have thinner skins, dense and velvety flesh with natural sweetness that bakes and purees excellently. Check for size, rind, shape, color and variety name when choosing pumpkins for cooking. This will help you easily identify and select the tastiest pie pumpkins to create amazing fall dishes.

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