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’).
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!
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.
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.
- 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 – 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Dave, I agree with you about the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin. Watery and flavorless. It makes a nice decorative pumpkin, but that’s about it.
Very nice squash. Do you hand pollinate them?
No, I let the bees do the pollination. If I wanted to save seeds I would definitely have to hand pollinate and then bag the blooms.
Very nice comparison. I grew the Long Island Cheese this year and wanted to grow the Violina Rugosa. Unfortunately, the seeds from Baker Creek, even though the packet said Violina Rugosa, turned out to be Butternut-Waltham. The Walthams are fine of course, but I wanted to try my hand at different tan C. moschata. My Long Island Cheese weren’t that productive (one per vine)and the first sizable one split into three so I had to eat it right away. It was surprisingly good, but I doubt that I will grow it again. Your Smackdown has convinced me to try the Canada Crookneck in 2015. Baker Creek has deleted the Violina Rugosa from their lineup so I may have to wait till 2016 for that one.
Thanks Mike. The weather may have influenced the taste of my LI Cheese. The Canada Crookneck was surprising, I had hoped it would taste good, but it exceeded all my expectations!
Those are some interesting winter squash. You are so fortunate to be able to grow so many different varieties. Unfortunately I don’t think I can grow more than one or two varieties next year. Butternut will definitely be on my list as will the Canada crookneck.
We had a great winter squash year this year and actually managed to grow a Dutch crookneck squash (after three years of trying) but haven’t cooked it yet… In the past we’ve grown a Violina Gioia squash we got from Baker Creek and we really liked this one (got one or two this year). I agree with your comments the Long Island Cheese Squash, but it’s often the only type we get to reliably grow here…
This year for us the Musque de Provence was prolific. It’s a decent squash (slightly stringier than I prefer but if you blend it into a soup, it doesn’t really matter). We’ve also gotten several “Bliss” squash but haven’t actually tried this one yet. “Metro” Butternuts we grew this year were small but good.
We’ve gotten away from just growing heirlooms and have selected some hybrids. They just seem to be more reliable. Thanks for the taste test comparison!
The fact that most of the LI Cheese went into the compost says it all! I had a similar experience when I grew the so called “Cinderella” pumpkin, the beautiful French squash that I can’t remember the name of now… It was so bland, SO Blah. I might have to see how the Canada Crookneck likes my neck of the woods next year.
I’d love to try the Violina Rugosa next year. It sounds really good. Though I’ll have to look through the seed catalogs and see what is available.