Unexpected discoveries are sometimes welcome. This year I planned to grow a couple of varieties of pumpkins in my garden. The seed packets said that they were ‘Baby Bear’, a cute, if not exactly cuddly, round orange fruited type, and ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’, a flattened, deep orange variety sometimes called Cinderella pumpkin because it resembles the fairytale princess’s coach. As you can see in the photo at left, ‘Baby Bear’ lived up to its billing, but the other variety turned out to be ‘Long Island Cheese’, so named because it originated on Long Island and it looks a bit like a buff color wheel of cheese with a waxy bloom on its skin.
Because pumpkins take lots up lots of room in the garden, I planted them where they could sprawl. ‘Baby Bear’ set up residence next to my tomatoes, and before long was clambering over the tomato cages. With the wet spring we had in central Iowa, the tomatoes soon defoliated from fungal diseases, but ‘Baby Bear’ happily clung to the cages, its developing orbs putting the tomato crop to shame. By mid-September ‘Baby Bear’ fruits were fully colored, and I started to give them away to visiting kids, who were delighted to begin their Halloween frenzy a month early. I managed to save a couple of them for my own use, but the expressions of joy on the faces of the gift pumpkin recipients was worth every moment of weeding and care that went into growing them.
‘Long Island Cheese’ was placed in raised beds next to the compost bin and raspberry patch. By late August, its vines stretched nearly 30 feet in all directions, and more than a dozen 10- to 15-pound fruits appeared on the vine. While they never developed the intense red orange color of ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’, I like their subdued dusky hue. And because ‘Long Island Cheese’ is of the species Cucurbita moschata, rather than C. pepo, as are many pumpkins, it’s resistant to squash vine borer. It also reportedly has excellent flavor, which is not surprising given that my favorite squash, ‘Butternut’, is also a type of C. moschata. I’ll have to roast a survivor of Halloween decor to find out.