After dealing with Cucurbita maxima back in 2010, I thought my days of "punkin-chunkin" were over. Alas, not so. St. Paris, Ohio’s, Prince Farm owner, Ron Prince, has an eye for the intriguing shapes and colors of heirloom pumpkins or as we in the chunkin business call them, “pretty impressive flying objects.” Each October Thursday, his trailer full of the magnificent orbs parked at the Enon Market was just too good to resist.
We chose a 15-pound ‘One Too Many’ pumpkin and a 13-pound ‘Peanut’ pumpkin. Both are actually squashes, as are all pumpkins. Our two are of heirloom heritage so that means a standard fruit that produces the same each year with a deeper, richer flavor than hybrid varieties.
The ‘One Too Many’ is called that because it looks like a giant blood-shot eye. Well, very ripe ones do. They can be a base skin color of white to cream to creamy orange with squiggly red veins or reddish to orange pink veins covering the entire globe. Between 20 and 25 pounds, they are grown as a novelty pumpkin for fall decorations. They are said to be good keepers, often lasting three to six months in a cool, dry place.
Our favorite was the ‘Peanut’ or "peanut-shell" pumpkin. Salmon-pink skin is covered with "sugar" bumps, which are actually excess sugar from the fruit that bleeds out onto the skin and dries to form brown peanut shell shapes. The flesh is a deep orange, solid, sweet meat that cooks up into a wonderful, pumpkiny-butternut squash flavor. It is said to be a 220-year-old heirloom squash with the French name Galeux d’Eysine. They can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to three months.
It does take some ingenuity to crack open larger pumpkins and squash. Passing up suggestions of hatchet, chainsaw, sledge hammer. and chisel and electric knife, we opted for the easy, safe way recommended by The Big Apple Farm in Wrentham, Massachusetts.
Place the pumpkin (squash) in a clean, large trash bag. Tie the end shut and drop it on the floor. It may take two or three drops, especially if you’re short. You could stand on a chair, but a 15-pound ‘One Too Many’ tends to be unwieldy the higher it goes.
Your goal is two-fold. Open the squash with minimum mess, and have pieces small enough to handle easily when baked. After cooking, the meat or flesh is spooned from the shell and can be used for all sorts of dishes, desserts, and frozen for later use.
There are numerous stories surrounding heirloom squashes and pumpkins and their odd names. I imagine by the time we get done chunkin the bloodshot eyeball of ‘One Too Many’ and the peanut shell encrusted ‘Peanut,’ there will be numerous versions of what happened in the kitchen when we decided to throw caution to the wind and toss them to the floor.
One friend enthusiastically declared her daughters would love to help in the kitchen if they could chunk a pumpkin. We all pictured her husband coming home from work, only to find the girls on chairs, tossing bagged blobs to the floor and giggling something about Mom teaching them to cook.
Pecan Squash Custard
• 2 cups cooked squash or pumpkin, mashed
• one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
• 2 large eggs, beaten
• 2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Mix together squash, milk, eggs and cinnamon. Pour into deep Pyrex pie plate or round casserole dish. Sprinkle top with brown sugar and nuts. Place dish in a larger pan with an inch of water in pan. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in center of custard comes out clean (like testing for a pumpkin pie). Cool to lukewarm or chill. Great with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream!