Sunday, October 30, 2011

Long Island’s Own Great Pumpkin

Growing up in the “Casserole Corridor” amidst the strip malls of suburban Long Island, I never imagined I would dine on locally-grown vegetables and farm-raised chicken as an adult. “The Island” was simply not the destination for a food culture. Certainly, there was always a food court within minutes, but the concept of food culture was quite foreign. As for “heirloom crops,” who knew the meaning of the term?

Indeed, that is changing, but I was still surprised on a recent visit to Restoration Farm to see “Long Island’s Own Cheese Pumpkin” listed as one of the selections on the chalk board. There on the table was a spread of some hefty, buff-colored gourds. There was much speculation among members at the distribution tent. Is it decorative? Is it for cooking?

I carry home an eight-pound pumpkin, and quickly get to work on my research. Good Grief, Charlie Brown! It turns out the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is indeed an heirloom crop that hails from my native soil – and is considered the preferred pumpkin for pie. So what’s with the reference to cheese? It is named so because it resembles a flat wheel of cheese in shape, color and texture.

The cheese pumpkin – a variety of Cucurbita moschata squash – was widely available from the 1800s to the 1960s before it became scarce. According to the Long Island Seed Project, a Long Island seed saver named Ken Ettlinger is credited with the renaissance of the cheese pumpkin and its link to Long Island. The Long Island Seed Project offers this anecdote published in 2005 in the magazine, Edible East End:

“In the late-1970s when Mr. Ettlinger noticed that the pumpkin was becoming less common in catalogues, he began growing it from fruit he bought at East End farmstands where farmers had begun to save their own seeds. He sold the seed as the “Long Island Cheese Pumpkin” through the now-defunct Long Island Seed Company. Before long, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and other catalogues began listing the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin as “an East Coast heirloom long remembered as a great pie squash by people in the New York and New Jersey areas.” Growing up on the Island in the 1950s, Mr. Ettlinger recalled hitting the farmstands just before Thanksgiving. “My family would always go to a farm and pick up a cheese pumpkin so Mom could make the pie,” he said. “If you talk to old timers, if you want to make pumpkin pie you use cheese pumpkin.”

The pies will certainly be made in the weeks to come, but what to do with that abundance of puree, from eight pounds of roly-poly cheese pumpkin? How about making some pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for family birthday celebrations, and just to spread a little seasonal good cheer in the office?

This recipe makes a fragrant, light and delicate cupcake, and this recipe for cream cheese frosting adds a nice sweet tang as a final flourish.

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Velva said...

8-lbs of pumpkin puree love....There will be no Libby's this Thanksgiving in your kitchen. I wish I could the same for me.

It's great to discover heirloom vegetables that are native to your area. You have just that more appreciation for the cheese pumpkin.


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Don't think I've ever had a cheese pumpkin, but I love the name and it certainly resembles a wheel of parmigiano-reggiano. Another great discovery from Restoration Farm.

Gloria Baker said...

what nice pumpkins!! and the muffins look absolutely nice! gloria

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

I have a lot to learn about different kind of pumpkins. I never know when I look at them if they are good for cooking or only decorating. Muffins looks so yummy.

Deana Sidney said...

It's remarkable to think what we have lost in sheer diversity from the homogenization of our vegetables. For so long a pumpkin had to look only like #1... thank heavens some people saved some things and we can start growing them again.. SOunds like a great pumpkin... muffins are just perfect!!!

Mary Bergfeld said...

The cupcakes and the frosting both sound delicious. I also learned some things today that I didn't know before reading your post, which , by the way, I found really interesting. I hope you have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

How cool to discover heirloom pumpkins. Thank you Mr. Ettlinger. I just love how people are coming up with these old seeds in tomatoes and now pumpkins. Perfect for a family birthday celebration with muffins.

~~louise~~ said...

Happy Halloween, T.W!

Who knew? Not I that's for sure! I hope you saved some of those seeds! I for one would love to grow Long Island pumpkins in central PA. Don't laugh, there are Long Island Ducks hanging out in the creek down the road. Yes, I said creek! (I should have said crik:)

I have fond memories of going out east to pick produce. Davis Peach Farm had the very best peaches EVER! I don't remember those pumpkins though. They sure do look like a wheel of cheese, lol...Thank you Mr. Ettlinger and all those seed savers out there.

Love the muffins, too. They look so tender and moist. Perfect for the festivities!

Thank you so much for sharing, T.W. I'm saving this post. (just in case these PA people don't believe that Long Island has a native pumpkin whose name includes cheese!!!

Barbara said...

That was a super post, TW! I had never heard of cheese pumpkins. Aptly named, aren't they? Is the flesh lighter as well as the outside?
You're going to have a pumpkin fest for a while! Your muffins are a good start. Pumpkin scones would be next on my list... my family loves them.
Boo! to you on this day of the great pumpkin!

tasteofbeirut said...

I would really like to taste that one; so far, butternut and kabocha are my favorites.
America's genius for incorporating fruit and veggie into pastries and this cupcake is a perfect example.

Catherine said...

Dear T.W., I am glad to see that Long Island, which is known for so many good things, will now be known for pumpkins!! We have so many good things here and now great pumpkins! I am sure that the pumpkin cupcakes were just delicious and I just love cream cheese frosting! Perfecto! Blessings, Catherine

Yasmeen said...

I just had a pretty good chuckle over the "casserole corridor" nickname - I've never heard that!

I can hardly resist the temptation of a pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese icing. Such a classic.

Anonymous said...

Those are pretty looking pumpkins!
I love this tasty pumpkin muffins recipe a lot, but for me without the frosting!