Sugar pumpkin is a term used to describe various cultivars of winter squash known for their sweet flavor and firm, smooth, dense flesh, which makes them ideal for making pumpkin pies and other baked items such as cookies and breads. Sugar pumpkins can be roasted, baked, sautéed, and simmered, and in some cases eaten raw.
What Are Sugar Pumpkins?
Sugar pumpkins, also known as sweet pumpkins, sugar pie pumpkins, or pie pumpkins, among other similar names, are made up of members of the squash family (Cucurbitaceae), generally comprising Cucurbita pepo, as well as Cucurbita moschata. Sugar pumpkins are usually smaller, at least in comparison with the standard field pumpkin that is commonly used for carving. Sugar pumpkins range mostly from softball- to cantaloupe-sized. Their color is usually a deep, rich orange, and they're usually fairly round, although there are exceptions to both.
Another key characteristic of sugar pumpkins is that they have dry, fine-grained flesh. When you carve a standard field pumpkin, you've undoubtedly noticed that the flesh that you scoop out is extremely stringy and watery. Those properties make it ill-suited for baking. And, if you've ever tried to bake with one of these pumpkins, you also likely noticed that its flavor was bland and slightly bitter. So, in addition to their flavor, it's the fact that their flesh is less fibrous that makes sugar pumpkins so much better for baking, and for eating in general.
Furthermore, all sugar pumpkins, regardless of species, are considered winter squash, which means they have harder skins and are harvested later in the growing season, as compared with summer squash. But what they all have in common is their sweet, edible flesh that is perfect for cooking and baking.
How to Cook With Sugar Pumpkins
One of the most common ways to enjoy sugar pumpkins is in baking, particularly for making pumpkin pie. It's also well suited for roasting, which brings out additional sweetness, as well as sautéeing, simmering, and steaming. They can also be cooked in the microwave. Cooked sugar pumpkins can be used in casseroles, pasta and risotto dishes, stews and curries, soups and sauces, and as a pizza topping. It pairs well with pecans, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, molasses, and maple syrup, and can be served with ground meats, poultry, sausage, grains, and other squash. In addition to pies, sugar pumpkins can also be used for baking cookies, cakes, and muffins. An average sugar pumpkin will yield as much as a can of pumpkin.
To roast a sugar pumpkin, preheat your oven to 350 F. Halve the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds and roast it, cut side down, on a baking sheet for about an hour. When it's done, the flesh will be tender enough to pierce with a fork. To microwave it, halve and remove the seeds, then cook face down in the microwave, for 15 minutes (or until tender) on high power.
What Do They Taste Like?
Sugar pumpkins have a rich, buttery, sweet flavor with a smooth, dense texture, similar to butternut squash. In fact, if you're not able to find a true sugar pumpkin, a butternut squash is a great substitute. When roasted, sugar pumpkins develop even more sweetness as the starches caramelize and turn to sugar.
Sugar Pumpkin Recipes
In addition to baking pumpkin pies, you can substitute sugar pumpkin for practically any recipe that calls for winter squash, including butternut, acorn, and kabocha.
Where to Buy Sugar Pumpkins
Numerous varieties of sugar pumpkins can be found at farmers' markets and supermarket produce departments during the autumn and winter months. Look for ones that are free from dents and soft spots and are relatively heavy for their size.
A whole sugar pumpkin will keep for up to nine months when stored in a cool place away from sunlight. Once it is sliced, it will keep for up to a week in the fridge. When trimmed away from the rind, the flesh can be frozen, and it will keep for up to six months in the freezer.
Because the term "sugar pumpkin" is an informal one, there are a number of varieties of pumpkin, comprising at least three separate species, that are described as sugar pumpkins, but what they all share in common is that they're sweet, with smooth, dense flesh. These cultivars in turn go by different designations, some of which might have the words "sweet" or "sugar" or "pie" in their names.
Examples include the New England Pie Pumpkin, Baby Pam, Sugar Pie, Sugar Snack, Small Sugar, Sugar Bush, Sugar Baby, Winter Luxury, Orange Smoothie, and Fairytale.