Halloween and Thanksgiving have rekindled my interest for pumpkins…or squash – since they belong to the same family.
Nothing says “Autumn Bounty” quite as charmingly as some bright and cheerful pumpkins and gourds. When it comes to varieties of squash the ones I’m most familiar with are the ones readily sold in most supermarkets like acorn, butternut and spaghetti. I love making butternut squash soup and have baked with other kinds. But now that Fall is in full swing let’s have a look at some other intriguing varieties found at your local farmers’ market, roadside stand, or grocery store and check out the incredible range of options available. They also come with an amazing list of *health benefits. But if you don’t want to eat them they make really nice table displays. These are just a few for example:
Who says pumpkins have to be orange? White pumpkins show up well outdoors at night, making the mid-sized Moonshine pumpkin perfect for painting or displaying as-is. Also look for tiny white pumpkins such as Snowball or the giant white Polar Bear pumpkin, which can be as large as 65 pounds.
Also known as the Musque de Provence, this French heirloom is straight out of Grimm’s illustrations. The squat, deeply grooved fruit run 8-15 pounds and will keep for many months at room temperature. These pumpkins have deep orange, moderately sweet flesh. Also look for Long Island Cheese, which is less deeply creased and slightly smaller, and a mini version called Autumn Crown that runs just a few pounds.
This Italian heirloom (also known as Marina di Chioggia) can grow up to 10 pounds. Its knobby green skin hides rich, sweet, yellow-orange flesh that is perfect for pies when you get tired of looking at it. A similar option is Black Futsu, an equally knobby but slightly smaller, black-green heirloom pumpkin from Japan that slowly turns gold after harvest. Black Futsu features firm flesh with a flavor reminiscent of chestnuts or hazelnuts.
I challenge you to look at this French heirloom without imagining tiny carriage wheels and a fairy godmother. This deep scarlet-orange pumpkin, which is also called Rouge Vif d’Etampes, runs 10-15 pounds and its dense, moderately sweet flesh makes great pie. Also look for a similarly shaped pure white version called Valenciano, a slate blue/dark green variety called Jarrahdale, and, if you’re really lucky, Bliss, a dark green variety with golden speckles and spots.
No room for a full-size pumpkin? Try this lovely little mini pumpkin. Also look for Casperita, a pure white mini variety; Autumn Crown, a flattened tan-colored mini pumpkin; Munchkin, a classic orange mini pumpkin variety; and Sweet Dumpling, a white mini variety with green stripes. These mini pumpkins make delightful tealight holders. Or, bake them up—they’re just as tasty as acorn squash.
This classic French heirloom is often called a gourd, but it’s actually a delicious nutty-flavored pumpkin. Turks Turban, a.k.a. Turks Cap, can be stuffed and baked whole, making a great vegetarian/vegan alternative for a festive main dish with the right stuffing.
Speckled Swan Gourd
These unique, birdlike gourds are worth seeking out. Like all gourds, Speckled Swan doesn’t contain edible flesh when ripe, but with a little care, you can cure the hard shell and keep it for many seasons. Look for Bottle or Birdhouse gourds, which have a similar shape but are white or pale green.
Depending on how they were grown, these striking gourds can resemble caveman clubs or sinuous coiled serpents. Immature fruit up to about 2 feet long can be eaten like summer squash (if you can pierce the skin with your fingernail, it’s likely tender enough to eat). As Snake Gourds ripen, their flesh disappears, leaving behind only seeds and a hard shell. Also look for Dipper gourds, which look similar but have a rounded bulge at the tip.
*Health Benefits: incredibly rich in vital antioxidants and vitamins, they contain a rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. Pumpkin seeds indeed are an excellent source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are good for heart health. In addition, the seeds are concentrated sources of protein, minerals and health-benefiting vitamins.