Pumpkins, winter squash, and gourds are inseparable from the autumn season. They fill our pies, form the foundation of our soups, and adorn our tables as the days get shorter and the holidays approach. In this gallery you’ll find cucurbits (the general term for these fruits of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants) for all purposes. With a little hunting, you should be able to purchase all of these at local markets and grocers…
Rouge Vif D’Étampes AKA Cinderella – This is a French variety of winter squash that arrived in the US prior to 1800. Originally from the community of Étampes near Paris, France, this squash has beautiful vivid red (Rouge Vif!) skin. This squash makes a fantastic soup or pumpkin pie.
Fairytale – I have always confused the name of this pumpkin with that of “Cinderella”. If I had to shuttle a princess wearing the most inappropriate of high-heels to a ball in a cucurbit carriage this would definitely be my first choice. The culinary performance of this pumpkin is equal to its beauty on your front porch. When the holidays are through, be sure to cook this decoration – in a pie, soup, or Stuffed with Everything Good!
Butternut – Butternut is an old standard for good reason. It is flavourful and has a firm flesh that holds up well to almost any treatment in the kitchen. Peeling this variety requires a steady grip and a sharp utensil. If you recipe calls for a puree, skip the peeling and try cutting the squash in half lengthwise and roasting it whole. The flesh will scoop easily from the skin with intensified flavours and colours.
Lakota – This is a squash derived from a variety with history far more ancient than your standard heirloom. This variety was developed and cultivated by the Lakota Tribe of the Sioux Nation and may have been planted alongside corn and beans in the classic companion planting arrangement known as “Three Sisters”. Its dense sweet flesh has a subtle nutty aroma which is why we chose to use this variety in our squash bisque recipe…..
Jumbo Pink Banana –The name of this squash is an accurate one – It is indeed an often-large, somewhat pink, banana-shaped squash. It has firm, mildly flavoured flesh that stands up well to long cooking times. We chose to use this fruit as both an ingredient and a vessel for an elegant squash soup recipe.
Sugar Pumpkin – If you are a committed baker of pumpkin pie then you’ll know that canned puree is no substitute for the real thing. These small pumpkins provide a perfect amount of sweet flesh for a single pie. When cooking with pumpkins that have this classic “Jack-O-Lantern” appearance be sure that you are working with a variety intended for cooking. The large, thin-skinned types that are easy to carve are often extremely moist and bland. You’ll flood your oven when roasting them and your dish just won’t taste like pumpkin.
Smaller Varieties for Roasting
Buttercup – This is an upgrade on your standard acorn (not that there’s anything wrong with acorn). For a simple and fantastic side-dish halve your buttercup widthwise, clean the cavity of seeds and stringy flesh, coat it with a layer of butter, brown sugar, black pepper, and salt, and bake uncovered at 375oF for 45 minutes. Add a small pat of butter to the surface of the cavity just before serving.
Delicata – People have gone crazy for this squash. Delicata’s small size and thin skin make for easy work in the kitchen. You can certainly roast this in the same manner as buttercup (or acorn) but you can also cut the squash into small pieces, complete with skin, and roast it on a baking sheet. The skin is completely edible but is also easily removed on the plate.
Carving and Decoration
Wolf Pumpkin (Maybe) – “Jack-O-Lantern” Type
We’re not too sure what variety of pumpkin this is – It’s bright orange and textured skin just screamed Halloween so we threw it in the trunk of the car. The sturdy “handle”, large oval shape, and general appearance have me wagering that this may be a “Wolf” pumpkin. This is a pumpkin for decoration or carving but it wouldn’t be my first choice for cooking.
Lunar White Pumpkin – The ivory-white skin of this gorgeous pumpkin makes it a perfect choice for the front porch or the mantle piece, but please keep it out of the kitchen. The colour of the flesh is similar to that of the skin – white. It tastes white too! That doesn’t mean you can’t find room for Lunar White on your dinner table – it would make an excellent serving vessel.
Gourds – Gourds are indeed eatable but I wouldn’t call them all that edible. Save these cute little fruits for table decoration, or perhaps as the foundation of an amuse bouche during the zombie apocalypse.
If you fancy growing some of these varieties in your kitchen garden at home, you’ll have to wait for next spring to sow seeds. Pumpkins, squash, and gourds all require warm weather and long days to grow and produce quality fruits. “Winter” squash get their name from the season in which they were traditionally consumed – with their thick skins they keep well in a cool dry place (like a root cellar) for use on a cold winter’s night. “Summer” squash like zucchini are thin skinned and must be eaten soon after harvesting – in summer!
Last summer I grew an heirloom variety with a meaty aroma, bright orange colour, and substantial but silken texture known as Geraumon Martinque. Every single dish that I cooked with this squash drew overwhelming praise and the squash is pretty too.Start browsing seed catalogues and websites for new and interesting varieties to plant in your garden next spring. Pumpkins and squash are soil hogs that require a good bit of space in the garden but the heirloom varieties are well worth the investment.
Good Growing (and cooking!)
~Jonathan Duffy Davis