Jon Branstrator, fifth generation owner of Branstrator Farm, near Wilmington, dedicates 25 acres to up to 85 varieties of pumpkins, squashes, and gourds. On October 4 and 5, you’ll have a chance to acquaint yourself with a host of forgotten heirloom varietals and savor some snacks at the farm’s Three Sisters Harvest Festival. If festivals aren’t your thing, check out the amazing range of squashes at Pipkin’s Market in Blue Ash. They’re sure to pretty up your porch until it’s time for cooking.
Blue Hubbard Squash
Avg. 12–15 lbs., some larger
With a corky stem and bumpy skin, Branstrator says this flavorful New England favorite looks like an alligator lying in the field. Before buying, flip the sucker over and give it a poke—softness is a sign of an internal microorganism mess. You don’t want that. Pro prep tip: Use an electric carving knife for “butchering.”
Avg. 1.5–2 lbs.
Fine, thin flesh and a manageable size make this one a favorite with home cooks. “You can nuke them in the microwave, cut them into rings and fill them with stuffing, or halve them lengthwise and stuff them with all kinds of things,” says Branstrator. To eat, scoop out the seeds and flavor it to suit your palate—try brown butter sage or Southwestern spices—then roast.
Winter Luxury Pumpkin
Avg. 5–7 lbs.
Don’t fall into the too-pretty-to-eat trap with Winter Luxury: Branstrator considers it the world’s best pie pumpkin. “It’s a true heirloom variety,” he explains. “The flavor and custardy texture is superior for pie.” To judge for yourself, cut one in half, scoop out (and roast!) the seeds, and bake it upside down until rusty brown and fork tender.
Avg. 4–5 lbs.
In Japanese, kabocha just means pumpkin. But on this side of the Pacific, it still sounds fancy at the farmers’ market. Cook and puree the flesh for a soup or sauce base, or mash it like potatoes; the moisture content yields a silky puree, without need for excessive butter and cream.
Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
Avg. 6–10 lbs.
Behind the beautifully waxed exterior is a pumpkin perfect for cooking. Use it now, or peel, cube, roast, and freeze. Back in the day, these pumpkins were stored through the winter to feed livestock, as well as people, due to ample carbs and vitamins. “Cows go wild over them—like they’re candy,” says Branstrator. In cows we trust, eh?
Green Striped Cushaw Squash
Avg. 7–25 lbs.
This tough-skinned Southern favorite thrives in extreme climates where many varieties cannot. Coupled with its resistance to disease and insects, it’s a surefire choice for many farmers. Sub it in for your standard pie filling—chances are, if you’ve got roots south of the Mason-Dixon, your pie will finally taste just like your grandmother’s.
Cushaw squash photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds, johnnyseeds.com