Long Island Cheese, Butternut Squash and other C. Moschata Squash
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This years harvest of Cheese Pumpkins from Flanders Bay Farm went to Krieg's Bakery on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, NY. Just before Halloween until just after Thanksgiving, Wally Krieg cooks up batches of the local Long Island Cheese Pumpkins to mix with condensed milk, malt sugar, spices and fresh eggs to produce distinctive pumpkin pies that are extremely popular with his regular customers. He is one of the few local bakers that still use the fresh cheese pumpkins instead of relying on the much easier to use commercial canned pumpkin mix. Briermere Farm on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, NY also make their pumpkin pie out of the local cheese pumpkins. If you don't live on eastern Long Island you may just have to bake your own if you want to match the awesome flavor of pumpkin pies made with the local "Cheese".
The cheese pumpkin, famous for making pumpkin pies was available through many seed retailers through the 1800's and into the 1960's. But then suddenly, it disappeared. Some
retailers listed the Kentucky Field or Dickinson pumpkin instead, which
is also a moschata species and shares many similarities with the cheese
except that they don't have the beauty of that pumpkin described by
some, "like a flattened wheel of cheddar".
The cheese pumpkin is C. moschata just like the butternut, neck
pumpkins and the calabaza squash that are featured in hispanic markets.
Cheese pumpkins are not all the same. There is; in fact, as much
variation in cheese pumpkins as in butternut squash. Yes, there is
variation in butternuts! Cheese pumpkins are, according to Native
Seed Search of Tuscon, AZ, one of the oldest squashes to be
domesticated and selected for food and animal feed. The ripe pumpkin is
nutrient rich and bright orange with beta carotene. Of all the squash,
they have some of the smoothest flesh and lack the stringiness
found; certainly better in quality than most pepo
pumpkins; many lines are also known for their high sugar levels.
They also have distinctive butternut qualities and even the tan
coloration of the butternut squash in most cases.
We were flattered to make the
fall, 2005 issue of the award-winning magazine, "Edible East End" which
celebrates the simple foods from the field, vineyard and bays of
Eastern Long Island.
www.edibleeastend.com for more information
For pumpkin pie, moschata squash like Long Island Cheese is favored. We
never use pepo squash like the standard Halloween pumpkin. Pepo
squashes often cook up stringy, insipid, and watery. Moschata squash
are richly colored (usually bright orange), higher in nutrients and
sugars, always smooth grained and have a denser flesh that will result
in a better custard. It's the same reason we use chunks of moschata
squash in our winter roasts and stews. Cheese pumpkins can also be
stored in a cool room of your house for most of the winter for future
use. One old-time cheese pumpkin that I collected at a farm in
Cutchogue, on Long Island's North Fork was particularly good for pie
and had the ability to last from one Halloween to the next. You
might still find the seed in circulation among seed savers and
available through the Seed Saver's Exchange, Decorah, Iowa.
First Place winner at the Riverhead, NY Country Fair in the fall of
2005: Long Island Cheese Pumpkins
It is the watermelon-shaped Dickinson and similar hybrids (that roll
better on the conveyors and lack the pesky ribbing that would make
peeling more difficult) which are raised in the midwest and keep the
canned pumpkin industry going. Libby's knows a good pumpkin and the
cheese pumpkin is the granddaddy to those modern processing types.
There were farms that raised the cheese pumpkin not too far from where
I grew up near the middle of Long Island. Every year, in the fall, we
visited them when it was time to make pumpkin pies and the beauty of
these big pumpkins left an indelible impression on me. I guess that's
why I began to collect the farmer saved strains that were abundant on
Long Island in the 1970's and 80's.
It's especially because these pumpkins were no longer in commerce that
there was the diversity I found. Each isolated farmer in a remarkably
short time, was able to select and create their own distinct variation.
The variation was impressive. There were giants over 25 lbs. probably
better for stock feed and little sweet round 5 pounders. I lost almost
all of the many strains I found and collected after Long Island Seed
ceased operation. Fortunately, and in a strange bit of fortune,
the genetics of the Long Island cheese pumpkins is preserved in the
seed available once again from a number of seed retailers. One day when
Long Island Seed was still operating, a squash and melon collector and
seed breeder, Curtis Showell who raised seed commercially for a number
of retailers called me with a request for an unusually large amount of
cheese pumpkin seed, enough seed to plant an acre. I sent 4 different
separately labeled strains of the cheese pumpkins including "Long
Island Cheese" which I was working on at the time. Shortly after, Long
Island Cheese appeared in the seed trade. You could still see some of
the variation within the Long Island Cheese because it was crossed with
the other cheese pumpkin variations especially in the initial years of
marketing the seed. As it continues to be selected by industry
breeders, Long Island Cheese has turned into less of a culinary giant
but it is quite a beauty.
This year we grew all F1 hybrid cheese pumpkins from crosses that we made last year. We crossed our Long Island Cheese with large Calabazza pumpkins with green and grayish mottled skin as well as with the ribbed heirloom French pumpkin Musque de Provence, one of our local Milk Pumpkins and a few other round moschatas that are very fine baking kinds in order to obtain more diversity for on farm breeding. Next year, the F2 generation will be amazing in it's diversity! If you're an on farm breeder we can supply you with 2009 F2 seed so you can produce your own better cheese pumpkin.
French Cheese Pumpkins
Another beauty are the French Cheeses. Varieties of these very
ribbed cheeses are popular in Europe and Japan and are showing up in
this country now that there is more interest in specialty squash (due
in part to Amy Goldman's beautifully written "The Compleat
Squash..." with photographs by Victor Schrager). The
French sell the squash in the local markets by the slice using the deep
furrows as guides. The Japanese version is much smaller and have
overtones of chestnut.
At one time there were no butternut squash. It's hard to
believe. Small straightneck moschata begin to show up in the U.S.
the 1940's. Some of the earliest work in the breeding of the butternut
was done at the University of New Hampshire by the legendary breeding
team of E.M. Meader and A.F. Yeager who did their work as public
breeders at the New Hampshire Agric. Expt. Sta., Durham, New
Hampshire. Baby Butternut and Waltham Butternut, the first
popular butternut varieties came out of their program in the 1950's.
This old kodachrome of Zak sitting on our doorstep in 1991 shows him
modeling what is probably the ancestral butternut, the Winter Crookneck
Pumpkin (C. moschata) or sometimes simply called the "Neck
Pumpkin". There have been many variations in the Neck
Pumpkin. Canadian Crookneck was well known as a fine orange flesh
moschata with a solid sweet crooked neck in North America since the
1800's. Luther Burbank used the Canadian Crookneck squash for
some of his first squash breeding experiments. The moschata
"Crooknecks" are known from India to Italy where they are eaten as
summer squash. Tromboncino is one. France also has an old
heirloom which is neckless.
There are a number of different species of Squash and one has to be
careful when saving squash seed that you aren't getting pollen
contamination from members of the same species you aren't counting on.
Cucurbita moschata is the species which have as members; cheese
pumpkins, butternut squash, neck pumpkins and the infamous, if not
unsensational, tahitian squash which is advertised so sweet you can eat
it raw. They usually have tan skin and a bright orange, sweet flesh
when mature. In our estimation, you can't grow a finer winter squash
for cooking or baking (for pumpkin pies). Raw, I don't think so.
What's this? Using moschata as a summer squash? Pictured here are some
moschata squashes from Korea where they are eaten in their green stage.
Actually, this isn't so unusual. The Italians have their "Tromboncino"
squash and the French have a squash called "Nice Long", as in the
city. I hear the Brazilians have their varieties also. These are
all moschata species which are often eaten like a zucchini or summer
squash in their immature stage and have created a sensation among those
who have tried them. "Hey, this is good", I've heard commented over a
bowl of steamed summer moschata from one who only eats zucchini if it's
in zucchini bread".
The Korean moschata we're growing I recognize as a moschata by the
almost bulbous swelling where the stem meets the fruit. Ours are all
vining squash although, so far they are less vigorous and productive
than the moschata winter squashes we grow. Whether these will ever
become popular in gardens here in the U.S. depends on some
adventuresome farmers and gardeners willing to try them. We grew a very diverse mixture of Korean moschata produced from two hybrids that are popular as a summer squash in Asia. If you are interested in growing the F2 and F3 moschata squash let us know. We can supply you with seed.
SUMMER MOSCHATA SQUASH (Cucurbita Moschata)
Summer moschata ready for seed harvest or using chunks in a winter stew.