Pumpkin Smackdown 2014

I took advantage of somewhat cooler temperatures yesterday to heat up the oven and bake some of the 2014 winter squashes. I call it a Pumpkin Smackdown, and last year the Smackdown turned into an all-day baking marathon that left me tired of the smell of roasting squash! This year I decided to break it up into several smaller sessions. Hopefully this will keep me from getting burned out, figuratively speaking. I started the smackdown with four C. moschata varieties, three that I had never grown before, and my old standby the Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash (aka ‘neck pumpkin’).

collection of winter squashes for puree

collection of winter squashes for puree

In the above photo, from left to right we have Canada Crookneck, Long Island Cheese, and Violina Rugosa. To prepare the squashes, I cut them in half and removed the seeds. Then I cut them in pieces, put them in a baking dish and roasted them uncovered in a 400°F oven until the flesh was tender. This took anywhere between 60 and 90 minutes, depending on the size of the squash and the thickness of the flesh. And of course the whole house smelled like pumpkin!

Canada Crookneck Squash cutup and ready for roasting

Canada Crookneck Squash cutup and ready for roasting

After roasting, I let the squash cool a bit, then scooped out the flesh from the skins. I drained off any excess liquid that had come out of the squash, then I pureed the flesh with a immersion blender until smooth.

using the immersion blender to puree squash

using the immersion blender to puree squash

When all of them were pureed my wife and I had a taste testing. It was a blind tasting for her, since she did not know what varieties she was tasting beforehand. Clockwise from the left in the below photo we have Canada Crookneck, Violina Rugosa, Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash and Long Island Cheese Pumpkin. It’s hard to tell in the photo but the Canada Crookneck was very deep orange color, while the L. I. Cheese was more yellowish. Here are my thoughts on the four squashes I baked and tasted yesterday, realizing of course that tastes are subjective and growing conditions can influence taste as well as size.

tasting the pumpkin puree

tasting the pumpkin puree

  1. Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash – the flesh is moist, fine textured, and tastes much like butternut squash. The vines ramble, and the plant is usually quite prolific. The fruits keep for at least 6 months in storage, sometimes longer. I have been growing this one for several years now, and it has been a dependable and tasty performer here. The puree is great for pies, soups, muffins and custard. I did a Spotlight on this variety last year if you want to read more about it.

    Long Island Cheese and Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash

    Long Island Cheese and Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash

  2. Long Island Cheese – so named because the flattened, ribbed fruit resembles a wheel of cheese. This heirloom is a favorite of Long Island residents, popular for making pies. The squash get pretty big, and the one in the below photo weighed in at over nine pounds before baking. Despite its reputation, we found it to be our least favorite of the four. The flesh baked up watery, and without much flavor. I have another one I will bake for the next smackdown, but unless it is considerably more tasty than the one we tried I will not be growing it again.

    Long Island Cheese Pumpkin

    Long Island Cheese Pumpkin

  3. Canada Crookneck – despite the name, this is actually an heirloom New England variety, reportedly originating with the Iroquois tribes. The fruits have a curved neck with solid flesh, and a seed cavity at the rounded end. They are very similar in shape to the Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash, though smaller in size. The ones I harvested this year were in the two to three pound range. The Canada Crookneck was once a favorite in the New England area, and is an ancestor to the butternut squashes that are popular today. I baked up several of these yesterday, and it was by far the sweetest of all we tasted. Even the ‘sap’ that baked out of the squash was as sweet as sugar. I’m not sure why it fell out of favor, except that perhaps the butternut has a thicker, meatier neck. I got my seeds from Baker Creek.

    Canada Crookneck Squash

    Canada Crookneck Squash

  4. Violina Rugosa – this is an heirloom Italian butternut squash. The name loosely translates to “wrinkled violin,” but I think it sort of resembles a peanut. The seed cavity is relatively small, with thick orange flesh. The squash in the below photo weighed about seven pounds before cleaning and cooking. The flesh is sweet and has a rich flavor that I could see would work well in either sweet or savory dishes. I only harvested one squash this year, but I look forward to growing it again. I got my seeds from Adaptive Seeds.

    Violina Rugosa squash

    Violina Rugosa squash

To summarize, my wife and I both agreed that the Canada Crookneck was the sweetest of the four varieties, and our favorite. Violina Rugosa had a richness of flavor and a great texture, and it was our second favorite. The Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash ran a close third, but lacked the richness of flavor or the sweetness of the top two. The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin came in last place, with a watery texture and very little flavor. I have another one of these that I may bake up later, but I can’t see me growing it again. The other three were all keepers, and I can’t wait to try them in recipes.

I wound up with seven pint containers of the pumpkin puree, though I only froze one container of the L. I. Cheese. The rest of it went on the compost pile. I have a few more varieties to try for Smackdown Part 2, once I recover from Part 1. I didn’t bake any butternut this time because I know they are great tasting, and I also want to save some of them for things beside puree.

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