Fall is bringing on a final splash of color with rich russets and reds, warm oranges and gold, and ever evolving shades of greens—not just in the leaves that cling to the trees around Ohio but in the pumpkins and winter squash stacked at roadside stands and those that dot the fields, still clinging to withering vines.
Fairfield County farmer Paul Saum will harvest about 100,000 pounds of the fall fruit and sell them from his farm and at the Circleville Pumpkin Show, farmers markets and at wholesale auctions. He already knows that most of his customers will take them home to use as fall decorations before tossing them out or mixing them into the compost heap.
Too bad because what they don’t realize is that beneath the funky colored blue and green skins; bumpy, lumpy and warty surfaces; and the odd shapes and sizes are some of the best tastes, colors and textures just begging for a recipe.
Saum farms 1,300 acres of grain, hay and specialty crops but sets apart a fraction to cultivate more than 40 different kinds of pumpkins and squash. They range from the three pound sugar pie pumpkins, which he says are “good for small hands,” referring to fall farm visits from school children, to the hefty 60 pound Phatso, a tall, round pumpkin suited for carving jack-o-lanterns.
“What makes a carving pumpkin different than those used for cooking is that the flesh is drier, it has more seeds and they are not very flavorful,” he said. It’s the odd and old-fashioned varieties of pumpkin and squash like Cinderella, Jarrahdale and Fairy Tale that offer thick walls of flesh, smaller seed chambers, lots of flavor and are not stringy or fibrous. It’s a matter of getting customers to look at them differently.
Saum points out a squat, buff-colored orb he calls a Long Island Cheddar purportedly because of its resemblance to the infamous wheels of cheese. “This has become a popular seller on the farm,” he said. But it took time for it to become a culinary ingredient rather than a carving curiosity. “Our customers come back and tell us they like it as a pie pumpkin because it has a smooth texture and a good sugar content.”
Some varieties like the Red Warty Thing, which Saum compares to a red lumpy Hubbard, and the Peanut Pumpkin, salmon-colored and covered with an intricate and coarse webbing, catch the eye but present a bigger challenge to those curious about its taste. “They are good to eat and shells help them keep longer,” said Saum, “but cutting into them is hard and requires a hatchet.” He’s recently added a variety called One Too Many, a unique pumpkin with red and cream colored veins shooting over the surface in a pattern resembling a bloodshot eye. Customers still “eye” this as a seasonal decoration, but it’s only a matter of time until they crack one open and discover its wonderful potential as a pie filling.
When Saum talks about pumpkins, he reminds that he may be talking squash, or vice-versa. Differences between the two can’t be determined by size, shape or color but by stem. “Squash have a soft handle that feels spongy like cork,” he explains, “while a true pumpkin stem is hard and tighter grained.” But there are exceptions to every rule and Saum admits the whole identification process can be confusing. “A butternut has a hard stem but we think of it a squash,” he said. Rather than get wrapped up in the cloudy botanical distinctions, squash and pumpkins are largely interchangeable when it comes to culinary uses. Variations in color, taste and texture certainly exist among varieties and the only way to sort it out is through experimentation. Once someone finds their favorite, Saum promises that they can have the best of both worlds, enjoying their looks and their taste.
“I tell people, ‘Go ahead and look at them and then eat them,’” he said. “Put them on wood instead of concrete or plastic so the air can circulate. Keep them out of the sun and bring them in after two weeks and cook them.” It’s true; you can have your pumpkin and eat it, too.
Saum Family Farm
4675 Hamburg Road
Lancaster, OH 43130
By Janet Cassidy
Easy, economical, colorful and flavorful, homemade pumpkin or squash puree captures seasonal flavors before the snow flies. Here are a couple of things to remember before you get started:
- Culinary pumpkins range in size so the yield from one to the next will vary. In general, 2½ pounds of raw pumpkin will produce about 2 cups of puree, which is what most standard 9-inch pumpkin pie recipes call for.
- Fresh puree is best when packaged for the freezer. It cannot be safely bottled and processed in a water bath canner.
- Drain some of the water from the puree by placing a fine mesh colander lined with coffee filters over a bowl, and adding the puree. Scoop 2 cups of the finished puree into heavy duty plastic bags, seal, label, date and stack in the freezer for up to a year.
They all say “take me home,” but before you make your choice, familiarize yourself with some of the most popular varieties and their culinary uses.
LONG ISLAND CHEDDAR
This classic pumpkin dates back to the 1800s and has the size, shape and appearance of a wheel of cheese. The skin is tan colored with sweet, deep orange flesh and is a favored variety for stuffing and baking whole or for pies.
GREEN STRIPED CUSHAW
It’s rumored that the popular canned pumpkin on the grocery shelves comes from a Cushaw pumpkin, which has been on the market since the 1800s. A large, oblong fruit with a crooked neck stem, Cushaws weigh about 12 pounds and yield a smooth, sweet tasting puree excellent for pies.
It looks like a pumpkin but the spongy stem says it’s a squash. This New Zealand heirloom has a distinct blue gray exterior and deep, aromatic orange sweet flesh with a complex flavor perfect for breads and muffins.
This large heirloom variety originates in southern France. It’s heavily lobed and ribbed and the skin turns from orange into a beautiful, rich russet brown as it ripens. The thick, vibrantly colored orange flesh has a fine flavor and is wonderful roasted and sautéed.
Aptly named because it resembles the famous fairy tale carriage, this deeply ridged, exceptionally flat fruit has a thick, sweet flesh with a custard-like texture. It’s a good all-purpose pumpkin but exceptional for soups.