Thursday, October 16, 2014

Anatomy of A Cheese Pumpkin

Long Island Cheese Pumpkin

I love pumpkins. This is good because I happen to live smack dab in the middle of some the world's best punkin'/squash growing country (Upstate NY). Come fall our local farms overflow with squash of every hue, size, and description. Funny thing is, most of them probably end up on people's porches for the ravenous local squirrels (a plague on their fuzzy house!) to feast upon. It seems as if many people in the modern world have forgotten that punkins' is good eatin'.

The most pumpkin/squash flesh that many of my Upstate countrymen manage to get in their stomachs is via a can, or perhaps some frou frou soup at a restaurant. This is not how it should be. Heck, I can eat roasted pumpkin or squash out of the oven with some butter on it in the manner of a baked potato! In my opinion the pumpkin/squash family is overrated as decorations and underrated as food.

I just so happened to be over at Indian Ladder Farms the other day with my lovely family when I spied a stand of "Long Island Cheese" pumpkins. The LI Cheese varietal really is a beautiful pumpkin. They just beg to be roasted and put to delicious purpose. I chose the above pictured lovely example. It was 4 bucks (I forget the weight, approximately the size of a squished soccerball).

A day or two later I hacked into my prize revealing the vibrant orange guts and plentiful seeds. A pet peeve of mine happens to be the fact that a majority of Jack-o-lantern artists chuck the seeds along with the guts. This is a travesty. There are few healthier, tastier foods out there than roasted punkin' seeds. Wash them off, throw on some neutral oil or butter, salt well, spread on parchment, and roast at 300 for about an hour. This one pumpkin provided a cup and a half of beautiful seeds!

Most pumpkin preparations are going to begin with roasting the flesh. I see a lot of recommendations for putting the pumpkin pieces skin side up with water in a pan so they sort of steam. I am not a fan of this method. I smear the hunks of pumpkin with butter and bake (350 for an hour or two) flesh side up until I can stick a fork in without resistance. I think the brown roasty bits add flavor to any intended dish.

Cooked thusly the flesh comes away from the skin with much ease. I had intended to do a pie and a soup with this pumpkin but I got lazy and decided to go with two pies. I like to run the flesh through my little hand cranked food mill. I ended up with something like 4 or 5 cups of purty orange flesh.

To one punkins' worth of flesh I add - 2 cans evaporated milk, 5 large eggs, 1 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ginger, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. You could probably get three pies out of this but I did 2 big ones this time (graham cracker crusts). The pies bake at 350 for an hour or so.

So, my opinion of the Long Island Cheese pumpkin you ask? It is a superb cooking pumpkin. Fleshy, substantial, and sweet. The pie was light and custardy with pumpkin flavor peaking through all of the sugar and pie spices. I think this pumpkin would be suitable in all applications from pie to soup to stew. I am in love with the cheese pumpkin. It is my new favorite pumpkin. 

The moral of this story is that pumpkins and squash are an important local agricultural asset. You should take advantage of this by finding ways to eat them instead of simply putting them on your porch. 

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