If your idea of a pumpkin is limited to the ubiquitous sugar (a.k.a. pie) variety or if your winter squash game doesn’t go beyond spaghetti, butternut, and acorn, it’s time to broaden your horizons. That includes those crazy-looking Cucurbitae—the oddly-shaped, funky-colored squashes that are just begging to be the stars of a future Pixar release.
Robbie Denny is well-acquainted with these up-and-coming movie stars. She’s the Farmers Market and Farm Market Manager for Ventura County’s Underwood Family Farms which plays host to one of the largest Fall Harvest Festivals in Southern California—last year’s event drew over 100,000 attendees.
While you can find all the usual suspects at Underwood, the farm also grows dozens of less familiar pumpkins and winter squashes. While some varieties are simply for the eyes, there are several that not only look great, they taste even better. Below you’ll find some of Denny’s favorites.
Cream-colored with orange and green stripes, its oblong shape reminiscent of a miniature vintage rugby ball, the delicata (which also goes by the far less classy monikers “peanut squash” and “sweet potato squash”) has been one of Underwood’s hottest sellers over the past three years.
True to its name, the delicata has a thin skin offering easy access to its delicious flesh. “It tastes like a cross between fresh corn and pumpkin pie,” says Denny, who prefers a simple preparation—cut in half length-wise, seeds scooped out, drizzled with oil, sprinkled with thyme, then roasted in the oven (or microwaved in a pinch). Try our Roasted Delicata Squash Salad recipe too.
When it comes to the Jarrahdale, it’s what’s on the inside that truly counts. According to Denny, this six-to-ten-pound blue-gray skinned beauty is the perfect pumpkin for pie fillings. Resist the temptation to keep the Jarrahdale intact for decorative purposes and take advantage of its sweet, meaty interior which is richer, creamier, and less stringy than the flesh of the more commonly used sugar pumpkin. The sacrifice is worth it.
Red Kuri Squash
A member of the Hubbard family, the pear-shaped red kuri is a favorite of Denny, who uses the versatile squash in pies, stews, and stuffing. Devotees can’t get enough of its nutty flavor—“kuri” in Japanese refers to a native variety of chestnut. They’re also a cinch to prepare. The squash’s ridge-less, dark-orange skin is edible when cooked, so no peeling is required.
Blue Hubbard Squash
A handheld electric saw will help provide access to the squash’s notoriously tough blue-green rind, but Denny offers an alternative method to getting to the good stuff. “I just drop it on the cement and it pops right open,” she says. “To me that’s the easiest.”
If you’re a fan of the bread bowl, consider this multi-colored marvel with a bulbous cap reminiscent of the Mad Hatter or Kuato from “Total Recall,” depending on your pop culture sensibilities. Denny recommends cutting off the top and cooking the bottom half of the squash while heating chili beans on the side. Remove the flesh, mix it with the chili beans, then serve it in the hollowed out turban. “It’s a beautiful serving bowl,” says Denny, who describes the chili beans and squash combination as “tremendous.”
Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
For better or worse, the Long Island cheese earned its name from its appearance, not its taste. Though not exactly the spitting image of a traditional cheese wheel, the sizeable tan-colored pumpkin is certainly an attention-grabber.
“It’s beautiful,” says Denny. “A lot of people who buy [Long Island Cheese pumpkins] use them for decoration during October and then use them on their table in November, and then they cook them.”
Mild in flavor, the Long Island can go both savory and sweet—a topping of brown sugar and maple syrup is a particular favorite at Underwood.
Check out all the best of pumpkins on Chowhound.
Related Video: Roasted Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.