Until recently, I wasn't aware that you couldn't just buy any pumpkin and use it for cooking. There are jack-o-lantern pumpkins bred to be big and look good, and then there are pumpkins that are bred to taste good. Seems obvious now, and in fact I did know that most recipes that call for pumpkins are really better with butternut squash instead. But this year I got bitten by the pumpkin bug and was feeling like a purist.
So you can imagine my delight when I spotted some sugar pumpkins for sale last week at the Union Square Greenmarket. I bought a couple and planned to make a pumpkin and leek soup, spiced with some garam masala. Unfortunately, these sugar pumpkins also turned out to be tasteless with a texture that can only be described as ropy. Clearly I was in need of some pumpkin schooling.
Then along came this article in the NY Sun. In it, Peter Hellman sets out to overcome his long aversion to pumpkin pie by doing some research on this Thanksgiving staple. He talked to Hudson Valley heirloom farmer Amy Goldman, a long time supplier of local produce for the Park Slope Food Coop and noted expert on pumpkins, squashes and gourds, who suggests using the heirloom pumpkin variety Winter Luxury Pie. The verdict?
I'd guessed that Winter Lux pie might turn out to taste like sweet potato pie, but it had its own distinctive taste and texture: light-bodied and lively, with a whisper of toffee to its sprightly flavor. No whipped cream was needed. For the first time, I cleaned my plate. And that was after the second slice. At last, a pumpkin pie that will come to my Thanksgiving table out of pride rather than duty.
Along these lines, Mother Earth News last month published a short article on three heirloom pumpkin varieties (referred to in the article as Phunky Pumpkins--it is Mother Earth News after all). The article details the Galeux d’Eysines, a French variety whose flesh is super smooth when cooked, Marina di Chioggia, or Chioggia Sea Pumpkin, a turban-shaped beast with Venetian origins, and Iran, a variety with unknown origin that looks "painted, with splashes of green, gray, white and orange-red." The article also includes a small photo gallery for the curious.
Are any of you out there experimenting with heirloom pumpkins for your Thanksgiving meal? If so, let everyone know how it goes!