I'm a devotee of pumpkins and squashes—so much so that my house is a shrine to the almighty Cucurbita. Mammoth pumpkins greet me at the front door in October. Pumpkins and ornamental gourds adorn the mantel and line the hallways. Plates of drying seeds for next year's crop are scattered throughout the house. Bronze sculptures and photographs of my prizewinners form a portrait gallery, a veritable who's who of the squashes in my life. In my basement storehouse lie hundreds of them, awaiting preparation: Pumpkin is, of course, always on the menu.
Squashes are the edible members of any of the five domesticated species of Cucurbita, a New World genus that consists of 12 or 13 species or species groups. Pumpkins are simply edible round-fruited squashes, and can have orange, white, green, brown, or blue rinds, with ribs, grooves, stripes, or mottled color patterns. I love pumpkins and squashes mainly for their good looks, secondarily for their good carbs.
My "cucurbit craze" started 15 years ago when I became enraptured by the sight of blue 'Triamble' and bumpy red 'Warren' while on a trip to New Zealand and Australia. The varieties that are ubiquitous in America—the familiar orange pie and field pumpkins grown for Halloween and Thanksgiving, as well as the Acorns and Butternuts (often harvested when immature and tasteless)—don't begin to describe the world of squash. There are squashes that look like talking heads, cavorting sea lions, or even confetti effervescing; others that taste like candied chestnuts, have titillating "naked" seeds (hull-less seeds that can be eaten raw), or are reminiscent of milk chocolate. These are remarkable heirlooms.