Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What pumpkin for your pie?

I have actually never made a pumpkin pie using canned pumpkin, and I make them more often than just at Thanksgiving (I love pumpkin pie). I have used pie pumpkins before, they are round, orange and smaller than Jack 'o Lantern type pies. I have grown these types of pumpkins, but in recent seasons I have despaired of growing pumpkins and winter squashes due to the dreaded squash vine borer. But the two types of squashes traditionally used in "pumpkin pie" are pretty resistant to the borer, as they have much firmer stems. Why? The vine borer is a moth that lays tiny eggs singly (many of them, but not in clusters) on your plants. The eggs hatch and the larvae (caterpillar) bores into the stem and grows fat feeding on your plant, eventually killing it. The two types of borer-resistant squashes are pictured above: the cooked one is a butternut (hard stem) type called the Dickinson Field Pumpkin (Curcubita moschata), and this is what is in those cans of packed pumpkin at the grocery. The other is also resistant to borers, and it is called the Green-Striped Cushaw (C. mixta), one of the oldest varieties of winter squash (perhaps grown by native Americans thousands of years ago). Both have dry flesh, the Dickinson deep orange, the Cushaw yellow, and are sweet and great for pie applications! I intend to find the seed and grow both next year. (Full disclosure: I bought both at a farm stand).

Oh, a third type that I buy, not grow, is a cheese wheel type pumpkin. These are very large (I estimate this cooked one pictured here at about 40 lbs) and, like all squash, are heavy feeders. They have dry, deep orange flesh (and lots of it), prefect for pie, bread, muffins and soup.

The easy way to get at that flesh is to bake the pumpkin whole or sliced in half at about 350 until tender when pierced with a fork (the 40 pounder took 3 hours, the others 45 minutes). Let it cool, scoop out the seeds and fibers, and scrape away the sweet flesh from the skin.

Happy eating! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy gardening!

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