This years harvest of Cheese Pumpkins from Flanders Bay Farm went to Krieg's Bakery on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, NY. Just before Halloween until just after Thanksgiving, Wally Krieg cooks up batches of the local Long Island Cheese Pumpkins to mix with condensed milk, malt sugar, spices and fresh eggs to produce distinctive pumpkin pies that are extremely popular with his regular customers. He is one of the few local bakers that still use the fresh cheese pumpkins instead of relying on the much easier to use commercial canned pumpkin mix. Briermere Farm on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, NY also make their pumpkin pie out of the local cheese pumpkins. If you don't live on eastern Long Island you may just have to bake your own if you want to match the awesome flavor of pumpkin pies made with the local "Cheese".
The cheese pumpkin, famous for making pumpkin pies 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 don't have the beauty of that pumpkin described by some, "like a flattened wheel of cheddar".
The cheese pumpkin is C. moschata 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 have some of the smoothest flesh and lack the stringiness found; certainly better in quality thanmost pepo pumpkins; many lines are also known for their high sugar levels. They also have distinctive butternut qualities and even the tan coloration of the butternut squash in most cases.
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. One old-time cheese pumpkin that I collected at a farm in Cutchogue, on Long Island's North Fork was particularly good for pie and had the ability to last from one Halloween to the next. You might still find the seed in circulation among seed savers and available through the Seed Saver's Exchange, Decorah, Iowa.
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.
It's remarkable because these pumpkins were no longer in commerce and there was incredible diversity farm to farm. 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. probably better for stock feed and little sweet round 5 pounders. I lost almost all of the many strains I found and collected after Long Island Seed ceasedoperation. Fortunately, 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 could still see some of the variation within the Long Island Cheese because it was crossed with the other cheese pumpkin variations especially in the initial years of marketing the seed. As it continues to be selected by industry breeders, Long Island Cheese has turned into less of a culinary giant but it is quite a beauty.
This year we grew all F1 hybrid cheese pumpkins from crosses that we made last year. We crossed our Long Island Cheese with large Calabazza pumpkins with green and grayish mottled skin as well as with the ribbed heirloom French pumpkin Musque de Provence, one of our local Milk Pumpkins and a few other round moschatas that are very fine baking kinds in order to obtain more diversity for on farm breeding. Next year, the F2 generation will be amazing in it's diversity! If you're an on farm breeder we can supply you with 2009 F2 seed so you can produce your own better cheese pumpkin.
Another beauty are the French Cheeses. Varieties of these very ribbed cheeses are popular in Europe and Japan and are showing up in this country now that there is more interest in specialty squash (due in part to Amy Goldman's beautifully written "The Compleat Squash..." with photographs by Victor Schrager). The French sell the squash in the local markets by the slice using the deep furrows as guides. The Japanese version is much smaller and have overtones of chestnut.
Neck Pumpkins and Butternuts
At one time there were no butternut squash. It's hard to believe. Small straightneck moschata begin to show up in the U.S. the 1940's. Some of the earliest work in the breeding of the butternut was done at the University of New Hampshire by the legendary breeding team ofE.M. Meader and A.F. Yeager who did their work as public breeders at the New Hampshire Agric. Expt. Sta., Durham, New Hampshire. Baby Butternut and Waltham Butternut, the first popular butternut varieties came out of their program in the 1950's.
This old kodachrome of Zak sitting on our doorstep in 1991 shows him modeling what is probably the ancestral butternut, the Winter Crookneck Pumpkin (C. moschata) or sometimes simply called the "Neck Pumpkin". There have been many variations in the Neck Pumpkin. Canadian Crookneck was well known as a fine orange flesh moschata with a solid sweet crooked neck in North America since the 1800's. Luther Burbank used the Canadian Crookneck squash for some of his first squash breeding experiments. The moschata "Crooknecks" are known from India to Italy where they are eaten as summer squash. Tromboncino is one. France also has an old heirloom which is neckless.
A New Kind of Summer Squash: Korean Moschata
There are a number of different species of Squash and one has to be careful when saving squash seed that you aren't getting pollen contamination from members of the same species you aren't counting on. Cucurbita moschata is the species which have as members; cheese pumpkins, butternut squash, neck pumpkins and the infamous, if not unsensational, Tahitian squash which is advertised so sweet you can eat it raw. They usually have tan skin and a bright orange, sweet flesh when mature. In our estimation, you can't grow a finer winter squash for cooking or baking (for pumpkin pies). Raw, I don't think so.
What's this? Using moschata as a summer squash? Pictured here are some moschata squashes from Korea where they are eaten in their green stage. Actually, this isn't so unusual. The Italians have their "Tromboncino" squash and the French have a squash called "Nice Long", as in the city. I hear the Brazilians have their varieties also. These are all moschata species which are often eaten like a zucchini or summer squash in their immature stage and have created a sensation among those who have tried them. "Hey, this is good", I've heard commented over a bowl of steamed summer moschata from one who only eats zucchini if it's in zucchini bread".
The Korean moschata we're growing I recognize as a moschata by the almost bulbous swelling where the stem meets the fruit. Ours are all vining squash although, so far they are less vigorous and productive than the moschata winter squashes we grow. Whether these will ever become popular in gardens here in the U.S. depends on some adventuresome farmers and gardeners willing to try them. We grew a very diverse mixture of Korean moschata produced from two hybrids that are popular as a summer squash in Asia. If you are interested in growing the F2 and F3 moschata squash let us know. We can supply you with seed.