No doubt about it, ‘tis the pumpkin season.
Native to North America, specifically the northeastern portion of Mexico and the southern United States, pumpkins are typically planted during the warm weather months and are scientifically known as Curcubita pepo, a cultivated plant of the genus Cucurbita — but if you find yourself calling them squash, that’d be just fine.
With over 150 different types of varieties grown all over the world, on the South Fork there are oodles of pumpkin patches that offer plenty of pumpkins in all shapes, sizes and colors. Click here to get a run-down on where to pick up one — or more (because who can resist all their gorgeous shapes, sizes and colors?). Before you head to the patch, though, here’s a little cheat sheet on what kinds of pumpkins are available and what their best uses may be.
Pumpkins by the dozens
Harry Ludlow, of Fairview Farm at Mecox in Bridgehampton, grows dozens of different types of pumpkins each year, noting there are definitely some pumpkins that are better for decorating as opposed to eating.
“We have a really great variety of squash, gourds and pumpkins,” he says, “that really delve into the different and unusual.”
For culinary purposes, the Long Island cheese pumpkin, kobocha squash (or Japanese pumpkin), fairytale pumpkin and delicata squash are among the best to be eaten, according to Ludlow.
“Our old faithful is the New England blue hubbard,” he says of the tough-skinned, blue lacquered squash. “It’s wonderful for eating.”
An important note: remember learning in elementary school how all rectangles are squares? Well, this sort of concept is true in that all pumpkins are squash, but “to a point,” according to Ludlow. “We’re essentially talking about the same thing, botanically,” he says. “But you’re not going to buy just an apple. You’re going to buy a Macintosh or a Jonah Gold. It’s the same way with pumpkins.”
Cheese pumpkin provenance
A relative to the butternut squash is the ever-popular Long Island cheese pumpkin. Historically known for its rich culinary history, the cheese pumpkin really has nothing to do with cheese at all. With a flat, stout body the lightly-ribbed, buff-colored pumpkin gets its name for its resemblance to a wheel of cheese. Excellent in pies, they’re best roasted or pureed, although they would look absolutely darling on your front porch, too.
For centuries, pumpkins have reigned as the unofficial herbaceous fruit of the autumn season, largely serving as the ubiquitous mascot associated with Halloween.
You don’t know Jack
According to an article written by Cydney Grannan for Encyclopedia Britannica, the Irish were the ones to bring the jack-o-lanterns to the states. Stingy Jack O’Lantern, a character in Irish mythology, was punished after his death to roam the earth for eternity after tricking the devil for his own monetary gain.
“In Ireland, people started to carve demonic faces out of turnips to frighten away Jack’s wandering soul,” Grannan writes. “When Irish immigrants moved to the U.S. they began carving jack-o-lanterns from pumpkins, as these were native to the region.”
Nowadays, Captain Jack pumpkins lend themselves best for decorative carving and porch sitting, as they boast that classic, tall barrel shape with a flat bottom and that tough, yet typically symmetrical rind. Similar are the Howden pumpkins, about the same size as a Captain Jack (about a foot or so tall), but slightly rounder in shape. Although both are technically edible, they, along with most standard field pumpkins, are ill-suited for cooking, with their extremely stringy and watery innards and their slightly bitter-flavored flesh.
The widely reliable Sugar pumpkins, aka sugar pie pumpkins, are great in — you guessed it — pumpkin pie and can range from between the size of a softball to that of a cantaloupe. To spruce up your green and yellow gourd displays, look to the Jack Be Littles and Baby Boos pumpkin varietals. Widely available across the East End, most notably at Milk Pail’s U-Pick Farm in Water Mill, these are the smaller format pumpkins, with the Baby Boos harvested prior to full maturity thus resulting in a bone-white color. Boo! Get it?