It’s that time again on the North Fork — pumpkins are back on the farm stands and ripe in the fields, ready to be picked.
There are hundreds of varieties of pumpkins in North America, many of which are grown by our local farmers. These pumpkins not only vary in color, shape and size, but also taste, texture, and purpose.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the best carving pumpkin in the patch or hitting the stands to make a sweet and creamy pumpkin pie, this guide will help you navigate the different varieties of pumpkins — and gourds — you might find on the North Fork this harvest season.
the carving standard
Originating from 19th century Ireland, the age-old tradition of carving pumpkins brings swarms of families to the North Fork’s U-pick patches every year. Though any pumpkin can be carved, the best carving pumpkin is one that has a flat, sturdy bottom to keep it upright, thin flesh and stringier guts. Jack-o’-Lantern Pumpkins are naturally the leading choice — they’re the traditional, deep-orange-colored pumpkins that remind you of Halloween. Ranging from medium to large sized, these pumpkins have a thin layer of skin, making them an easy feat for small paring knives.
Because of their popularity, most farmers on the North Fork grow one or more varieties of what could be considered “your average pumpkin.” At Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm, co-owner Jeff Rottkamp says the basketball-sized, classic orange pumpkins are their best sellers. At Stakey’s Pumpkin Farm, the one that’s most populated on the patch is called Kratos — a dark orange, high-yielding pumpkin that’s well-suited for carving.
“Every year they’re upgrading them to try to make them a deeper orange, more ribbed or darker handles,” said Helen’s Flower Farm Owner Donald McKay, who explained that even the classic-looking pumpkin varieties are always changing.
For a jack-o’-lantern look that’s a bit more unorthodox, Mckay recommends carving a face out of a green pumpkin and lighting it at night.
“It’s like the pumpkin’s not there,” he said. “It’s kind of weird to see the light coming out of the darkness.”
beyond the jack-o’-lantern
Those looking to venture beyond the traditional pumpkin for their fall decor can get creative with the different hues, bumps, sizes and patterns pumpkins can offer. On the smaller side, there are Jack Be Littles — cute and compact mini-pumpkins you can find at almost any North Fork pumpkin farm. Other local miniatures include ghostly white Casperitas and Baby Boos, as well as Hooligans, which are cream-colored pumpkins speckled with light yellow and orange. Like Jack Be Littles, these tiny pumpkins weigh less than a pound and can fit inside the palm of your hand. Lightweight with a small stature, they’re ideal for creating a table centerpiece or a fall wreath.
One of the heftiest pumpkins in the patch is the Big Max, also known as the Big Mac.
“You’ll need multiple people to move one,” said Jeff Rottkamp, who sells them at his farm in Calverton.
Originally designed to win pumpkin growing contests, these gigantic fruits typically grow anywhere from 50 to 200 pounds. In 1893, William Warnock — who invented this variety — broke the world record for the heaviest pumpkin ever grown with one that weighed a whopping 400 pounds. An eastern Canadian variety called The Atlantic Giant has since beat the Big Max’s record. Today, the Atlantic Giant reigns as the heaviest pumpkin variety ever grown with the biggest weighing in at 2,702 pounds.
At Andrews Family Farm in Wading River, Rose Andrews likes to take advantage of the different colored pumpkins that are grown locally.
“I’m a pumpkin fanatic,” she said. “We don’t really do the corn maze or anything, so I make these massive pumpkin displays.” Last year, she arranged her stand to create a rainbow of pumpkins, using varieties like the scarlet Rouge vif d’Etampes, the Mellow Yellow, and the blueish-green Jarrahdale.
Her all-time favorite? The Marina Di Chioggia pumpkin — an aggressively warty, blue-green winter squash that originates from a fishing village in the south of Venice.
“It’s got a ton of warts,” Andrews said, explaining that, in recent years, more and more people that come to her farm have been swapping out the classic jack-o’-lantern for something a bit more bizarre. “The uglier, or the more different — the better.”
CREDIT: DAVID BENTHAL
Nick Krupski of Krupski Farms in Peconic is also a big fan of weird pumpkins. His favorite warty variety is Lunch Lady, which looks like a hybrid between a gourd and a pumpkin.
“I always grab those for my steps because they’re all knobby, ugly, and cool,” said Krupski.
Grizzly Bears and Warty Goblins are also known for their heavy warting. Matt Schmitt, farm manager of Schmitt’s Farm Stand on Sound in Riverhead, says these varieties are particularly popular because of their “halloween-ish” look.
“The Warty Goblin Pumpkin definitely falls into the ugly category, but customers seem to really love them,” added Edward Harbes IV, CEO of Harbes Farms.
Those searching for the wartiest of pumpkins should look out for the Galeux d’Eysines, also known as the Peanut pumpkin. This salmon-colored heirloom variety gets its name from the thick, dried- peanut-looking growths that protrude from its skin as a result of an overabundance of sugar buildup.
cooking with pumpkin
If you’re anything like Pumpkin Farmer Nick Krupski, then you’ll find that the best kind of pumpkins are the ones that you’ll want to eat. While all pumpkin varieties are technically edible, some are better suited for culinary purposes than others.
Take the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, for example, which was designed with taste in mind. It’s a flattened, muted orange squash with a roundness that resembles that of a cheese wheel. “The ridges are super pronounced. It’s an attractive looking pumpkin,” said Krupski. “We tell people to buy them and make decorations… then you can take them inside and eat them.” Dating back to the 1800s, this type of pumpkin was “prized by our ancestors for its ability to thrive in this area,” explained Edward Harbes IV, CEO of Harbes Farms. Its slightly sweet, buttery texture makes it popular for baking and a staple of many pumpkin pie recipes.
“The roasted seeds are delectable,” added Harbes. “Just be sure to save some for next year’s planting!”
Fairytale pumpkins, Jarrahdale pumpkins, and Sugar pumpkins are also great for making pies. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to use a variety that has firm, dense flesh, and avoid the carving pumpkin vari- eties. Your classic Jack-o’-lantern is often too watery and stringy to be good in pies, but its seeds are another excellent option for roasting.
If you’re looking to make a dish like pumpkin soup, then you might also consider picking up a Cinderella pumpkin. These winter squashes taste about as magical as they sound — their mild, sweet flavor and moist flesh makes them an ideal option for sauces, purees and curries. Krupski, whose favorite fall dish is pumpkin soup, likes to use Cheese pumpkin, or even Butternut squash. “I’m sure a very good chef would hate me for saying that,” he said jokingly. “I find them to be very similar.”
While you might use pumpkins as a key ingredient for your meal, you’re more likely to see gourds on display at the dinner table. Exclusively grown to be ornamental, gourds come in a variety of multi-colored combinations — shades of green, orange, yellow, and white — and can brighten up any cornucopia or fall display.
“A lot of people will mix the gourds and the pumpkins,” said Andrews.
The winged gourd is a popular table arrangement piece and a good choice for those looking for that imperfect look. Often compared to an exotic fish, these gourds usually have several ‘wings,’ a curvy or straight neck and can come warted. The Daisy gourd is another common decorative gourd, named for its unique daisy pattern at the end of its stem.
Though typically seen as being ornamental, dried gourds can also be used for functional purposes.
“They really harden up nicely,” said Krupski, who used to make dioramas as a kid out of his family farm’s gourds for school.
Bottle gourds, when dried, can be made into items like utensils, canteens, and even musical instruments. Gooseneck gourds, which have a long, curved neck, have been used for building birdhouses and ladles. Some artists even make jewelry by carving into pieces of gourd, making rings, necklaces and bracelets. Their hard shells can be carved, painted, and stained — offering boundless opportunities for crafting.