The last time I stepped into the Boulder Daily Camera, I carried in a container of fish fertilizer that ended up exploding in a miasmic stench over the newsroom floor. The smell was overwhelming, not leaving even after mopping up, and I was pretty sure it would take a lot to make myself welcome within those walls again.
So this time, I brought pie.
Not just any pie, but seven types of pumpkin pies, baked from different pumpkin varieties grown by local farmers. In bringing the treats, I wasn’t just trying to win back the newspaper’s affection; my ulterior motive was to find out which pumpkin tastes the best in the custardy dessert.
When asked by gardeners which vegetable varieties are the best to grow, I hedge my answers. It’s not that I don’t have favorites; it’s just that flavor is subjective. My taste buds are different from theirs. So I usually stick to suggesting that gardeners shop the farmer’s markets, to taste fruit and vegetables until they find the ones they like.
But with so many varieties of pumpkins to choose from, how can a gardener tell if this pie is better made from one pumpkin or another? The only way to find out was to have a pumpkin throw down.
Pitching the idea to my editor, Cindy Sutter, was easy: she’s a food writer and curious about all things edible. Together, we hatched a plan to gather up six different pumpkins – all touted as delicious pie types – and, using the same recipe for each, make pies for a panel made up of restaurateurs and average Joes to sample.
Local growers were eager to help, since they want to know what is best to grow for their customers. So in mid-October I set off to pick up a few pumpkins to try. But what started as a simple seven-squash journey turned into a Volvo full of gourds; the farmers so kind and helpful that they pressed more than one type of pumpkin into the running. I had to unload the car under cover of darkness so my spouse couldn’t see just how full that car was with pumpkins.
Cindy and I narrowed down the field to six:
New England Pie – came up often in searches for the definitive pie types, along with Baby Pam, listed below. Small to medium sized, deep orange color, and perfect roundness makes it a quintessential fall squash; its flavor has long been listed as the choice for pie makers.
Baby Pam Sugar Pie – one of the Sugar Pie pumpkin clan, Baby Pam is touted as a top choice for baking. Widely grown for market, this medium sized (four pounds) squash is strongly recommended for commercial growers due to its vigor, yield, and medium-sized fruit.
Winter Luxury – an heirloom pumpkin with delicious, smooth flesh and old fashioned flavor. The orange skin is netted with white, giving the gourd a frosted look. This was my entry into the taste-off; as a gardener I’m a bit disappointed in the yield of the plant. From six vines only four pumpkins were produced, which is unacceptable if you only have a small space to grow food.
Mystique – a small pie pumpkin with medium orange color. According to the farmer, yields are fairly good with this type, making it attractive for market growers. The small size – two to three pounds – makes it a perfect one-pie pumpkin.
Kabocha - a Japanese pumpkin with dark green, striped skin was tossed into the mix. Considered one of the sweetest of the Japanese winter squashes, Kabocha offered an element of the exotic to our pie entries.
Snow White – mammoth in comparison to the smaller pie types, this white-skinned heirloom surprised me. Cutting open the 10-pounder, the skin was deep red-orange – I had been expecting a lightly colored flesh. Though yields are average for a pumpkin of this size (one or two per vine), you’ll get enough squash to freeze and use in baking for the rest of the winter.
As the control, Libby’s canned pumpkin was added, on the thought that it was what most people think of as pumpkin for pie.
And the winner is……? Read the results of the throwdown in Cindy’s article in the Boulder Daily Camera.