Which are the best pumpkins?

Pumpkins are the most handsome of all the autumn veg. The best pumpkins are friendly, soft and curvaceous, and by growing several varieties you can have a mixture of the loveliest colours. The leaves may be looking a mess by autumn but if you cut these back you will reveal a set of beautiful pumpkin-shaped colour splotches across your garden.

My best pumpkins- for their looks - are the verdigris-skinned ones such as 'Crown Prince' and pumpkin 'Queensland Blue', and the French pleated squash, 'Potiron Tristar Triamble', which has its own weird beauty and looks eyecatching in the centre of the kitchen table. Mix them up in the garden and in a wide dish as a still life with the deep red-orange of 'Rouge Vif d'Etampes' and 'Red Kuri', pale tangerine 'Munchkin' and the salmon pink 'Giant Pink Banana'. They reach their peak at the same time as dahlias and are perfect together: fat, fecund, and splendid.

I'd probably grow pumpkins for their looks alone, but the right ones can make fantastic eating. I have some tried-and-tested favourites: 'Red Kuri' is a useful size, with waxy texture and excellent taste. It can climb, which is handy in a smaller garden and is a good producer. Another winner is 'Crown Prince', a hugely long storer with good texture and taste, while 'Munchkin' is pretty, small, abundant, with flesh reminiscent of sweet chestnut.

However, I am always on the lookout for more, so this year, we've grown 11 extra varieties at Perch Hill. It hasn't been a good year for the squash family (too much rain in July and August), so it would be hard to properly assess their productivity, but at least we can work out which has the best texture and taste. We had 14 in the trial, and tasted them all on the same day, bar one - Harrier F1, which is supposed to be early fruiting, but was hopeless and hardly fruited at all.

They were cut up and roasted with a drizzle of olive oil, some salt and pepper for 45 minutes. We wet the seeds and dipped them in a little salt and then roasted these too. Here are our results.

'Crown of Thorns'

This is meant to be grown as an ornamental gourd. It tastes all right, but has a very stringy texture - a bit like spaghetti squash, but dryer - and a tough skin. I wouldn't grow this to eat, but I love its knobbly looks and colour, and it stores for at least six months so is ideal for harvest festivals and still-lives for the centre of your kitchen table. Seeds taste OK, but not exciting.
Looks and ornamental longevity 7/10
Eating 2/10

Squash 'Crown Prince'

Beautiful dark, blue-green, verdigris skin. Very similar to 'Queensland Blue' which - this year - was a slightly better producer. The orange flesh is dense - excellent for roasting. Good waxy texture and taste. An excellent storer - I still have one from last year. Seeds horrid. I will certainly grow this or 'Queensland Blue' again.
Looks and ornamental longevity 10/10
Eating 9/10

'Giant Pink Banana'

Huge and quite a good producer, with a thick layer of deep orange flesh, too large to eat all in one sitting, but ideal for soup. Flavour OK, but not outstanding. Seeds are like cardboard. Not ideal for a smaller garden, but nice looking and tasty if you have the space.
Looks and ornamental longevity 6/10
Eating 7/10

'Lumpy'

Very good producer (one of the best of the lot) but watery, bland taste. Ideal for mini lanterns, but not much else. I wouldn't grow this again unless I was planning a big Halloween party.
Looks and ornamental longevity 6/10
Eating 0/10

Squash 'Zucca da Marmellata'

Varies wildly in size and an excellent producer, with pretty pale pink-orange skin. Delicious too, golden-orange inside with moist, soft flesh. Used in Italy to make chutneys and jams. Seeds OK. Our favourite squash of all in the taste trial we'll certainly grow them again.
Looks and longevity 8/10
Eating 9/10

Pumpkin 'Munchkin'

Mini pumpkin with bright orange flesh and pleated shape. The flesh is deep orange with a lovely chestnutty flavour and soft, waxy texture. Lovely tiny seeds, which can be eaten whole. A good producer which makes an ideal climbing plant for any garden. I grow these over willow teepees and they look great.
Looks and longevity 10/10
Eating 8/10

'Potiron Tristar Triamble'

Another one with verdigris skin with heavy rippling. Yellowy-green flesh and an excellent producer, giving the biggest crop of the year. The flesh has a very smooth texture, but not much taste. The seed cases were tough, but had good flavour.
Looks and longevity 10/10
Eating 8/10

Pumpkin 'Queensland Blue'

Similar to 'Crown Prince', but a bit smaller, with beautiful dark, blue-green, verdigris skin. Good producer, with dense orange flesh, excellent for roasting or soups. Good waxy texture and taste. Seeds OK. Another excellent storer - I still have one of these on my dresser from last year. I will definitely grow this again.
Looks and longevity 10/10
Eating 9/10

Squash 'Red Kuri'

Also called 'Uchikiri' and red onion squash, this medium producer has deep orange skin and similar coloured flesh with a lovely sweet flavour and waxy texture. The skin is soft enough to eat. Seeds tough and not tasty. This still remains in my top two or three.
Looks and longevity 9/10
Eating 10/10

Squash 'Rouge Vif d'Etampes'

Huge and beautiful, with deep red-orange skin, but not a good producer. Lovely, very waxy flesh with a gentle, sweet taste. Ideal for soups. Tough skin. Seeds are OK but not exciting. I would grow it again if I had lots of space.
Looks and longevity 10/10
Eating 9/10

Pumpkin 'Snowman'

Creamy green skin and creamy coloured flesh, turning to lime green around the seeds. It was light-cropping this year but tasted delicious, with a nutty chestnut taste, flesh that was not too dense (but not watery either) and a skin that bakes hard, so ideal for roasting slices or - if you remove the skin - for tempura. The seeds are large and tasty. I will grow this again to see if it produces more fruit in a better, hotter, sunnier year.
Looks and longevity 8/10
Eating 8/10

Squash 'Sweet Dumpling'

This is a neat, small squash with cream skin stippled with dark green. It has the driest flesh of the lot - very dense - which takes a lot of cooking and tastes distinctively of parsnips. A good producer. Tiny seeds which are good eaten whole. It is ideal for the smaller garden as it can be trained up and over fences or teepees.
Looks and longevity 8/10
Eating 7/10

Squash 'Turk's Turban'

An amazing-looking squash with stripes of orange or green and white and a shape like a Turk's turban. A good producer, but really more an ornamental squash than an eater. The flesh is stringy, watery and bland and the seeds are massive and tough but with quite a good taste. I would only grow this again for ornament.
Looks and longevity 9/10
Eating 2/10