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Cucurbita moschata, "Long Island Cheese"

 

Our Pumpkin Pie Secret

We used to bake pumpkin pies for our farm stand patrons (as a by-product of our seed production), until the demand was so great we could do nothing but bake pies. People would show up at 7 am for pie. It probably would have been lucrative but there just aren't enough hours in the day!

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.

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(First Place winner at the Riverhead, NY Country Fair in the fall of 2005: Long Island Cheese Pumpkins)

 

Pumpkin Pie

Prepare moschata squash (butternut types, neck pumpkin or cheese) either by oven roasting in a covered heavy pan with enough liquid to allow the squash to cook until soft without browning or by allowing cubed squash to cook in a pot of water on top of the stove until tender (check with a fork). Allow the cooked squash to completely drain and cool and puree in a food processor. Add pumpkin pie spices. For every 2 cups of pureed squash add 1 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. of ginger, 1/4 tsp. cloves and 1/2 tsp of salt. Since you're essentially making a custard, add your custard ingredients: 2 eggs, 1 can of evaporated milk (or 1 cup of whole milk or light cream) and 3/4 cup sugar. Everything should be nice and blended to pour into a deep unbaked pie crust. Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for 45 minutes to an hour depending on your oven and the depth of your pie. Check for firmness toward the end of the baking time (you want a firm custard), but don't let the pumpkin filling over cook or scorch.

pumpkin

Zak wearing a neck pumpkin, in, uh, the preferred fashion. Neck pumpkins are giants in the world of butternut squashes. Neck squash and the long neckless kinds are my favorite cooking squash because they have that long, solid, easy to peel neck and the quality is pure moschata- every bit as good as the cheese pumpkin. Can't use the entire neck, stuff the exposed end into a plastic bag, rubber band it and toss it into the bottom of the refrigerator.

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Long Island Cheese Pumpkin

The cheese pumpkin is a moschata squash. 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 tend to have the smoothest flesh and lack the stringiness found in most pepo pumpkins; they are also known for their high sugar levels. They also have the distinctive butternut tan coloration in most cases.

The cheese pumpkin 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 are oblong and not shaped like a flattened wheel of cheddar.

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.

pumpkin

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. and little round 5 pounders. I lost almost all of the many strains I found and collected after Long Island Seed ceased operation. Fortunately, one of my favorite variations, the Cutchogue Cheese pumpkin is still circulating among the members of the Seed Savers Exchange 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 can still see some of the variation within that variety probably because it was crossed with the other cheese pumpkin variations. And if you want, you can select out of it your own farm specialty or family heirloom.

pumpkin

I guess it's a cheese. Varieties of these very ribbed cheeses are popular in France and Japan and are showing up in this country now that there is more interest in specialty squash and the above long moschata is a modern processing moschata that we are now growing.

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In 2005 I was interviewed about the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin for the magazine: "Edible East End" - Fall, 2005

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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