Unless you grew up in the Northeastern US, you may have never heard of the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin. Although it has a wacky name, this hardy gourd packs some serious flavor and versatility in a stocky package. Even better, it’s a trusty heirloom gourd that brings American heritage to your garden and your plate.
Whether you already know and love the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, or you’re entirely new to its existence, keep reading to learn more about this quintessential pie pumpkin.
1. What Is a Long Island Cheese Pumpkin?
Despite the name, the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin only resembles cheese in appearance. Its rounded and ridged form is squat, like a wheel of cheese, and features a delicate hue that ranges from cream to pale apricot. This is a medium-large pumpkin variety normally weighing in the range of six to 10 pounds.
The inner flesh is the same rich orange as your classic pumpkin variety, and is loaded with beta carotene. This nutrient encourages healthy eyes and skin, and also contains cancer-fighting antioxidants. The pumpkin is also a great source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and potassium.
In addition to its abundant health benefits, the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is a natural beauty. Gather a few for your autumnal decor, and then transform them into culinary masterpieces.
2. Does the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Taste Like Cheese?
The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is loved for its stringless flesh, which has a fine grain and somewhat brittle texture. Once cooked, this squash becomes tender and creamy with a mild flavor that bridges sweet and earthy. It is renowned in the Northeastern US as a perfect candidate for pumpkin pies.
This delectable pumpkin, also known as the Cinderella Pumpkin, is great for roasting, baking, sautéing, grilling, frying, and boiling. Although the flavor is similar to butternut squash, the exterior flesh is much easier to cook without the necessary hassle of peeling. Once cooked, it can be pureed and added into soups, sauces, curries, tarts, cakes, and breads.
For more savory options, the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin can be stuffed with meats, grains, and vegetables. Batter and deep fry it for a crispy treat that melts in your mouth. You can even pair it with your favorite gruyere or parmesan cheese, and spices such as thyme, cinnamon, and ginger.
If you enjoy homebrewing, this jack-of-all-trades can be added to mash, prior to fermentation, in craft beer brewing. You can hardly go wrong with this lovely gourd.
Best of all, this pumpkin will last three to six months when stored in a cool, dry place. So you can enjoy it all season long.
Get started on your Long Island Cheese Pumpkin journey by learning how to puree a pumpkin. Then try out these heartwarming Pumpkin Snickerdoodles, or go traditional with the best Pumpkin Pie. To add a Mediterranean flair to your pumpkin adventures, try whipping up some hummus. You can also hollow out the pumpkin to use as a fall-themed soup bowl, and roast the seeds for extra enjoyment.
3. The Story of the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
This heirloom pumpkin is named for the Northeastern region of its origin. One of the first squash varieties domesticated for consumption, it was created from Native American cultivars. Throughout the 1800s, this was the most commercially successful pumpkin.
Long Island cooks and farmers boasted of its superior taste, texture, and appearance. In addition to use as a kitchen staple for human enjoyment, the gourd was also used as a dietary supplement for livestock and household pets.
Despite its initial success, this pumpkin variety almost disappeared entirely by the 1970s. The culprit was the industrial appeal of new pumpkin cultivars that were more easily canned for mass distribution.
Long Island locals with a love for the gourd gathered together to steward vanishing seeds. As of 2012, this initiative is known as the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium, which subsequently launched the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Project.
This project is at the forefront of the movement to revive the popularity of this valuable pumpkin, and the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is once again appearing on shelves and in specialty stores partly as a result of their efforts.
The Ark of Taste is another savior of this heirloom gourd, featured by the Slow Food movement. This is a catalogue of worldwide heritage foods at risk of extinction, designed as an educational resource and awareness platform for farmers, chefs, grocers, and anyone with a passion for heirloom food preservation.
Another sister project in heirloom stewardship is the Kitchen Cultivars project, which brings together food-lovers and regional seed producers to increase public knowledge of regional crops.
You can also view this precious pumpkin growing in the Smithsonian’s Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History.
By purchasing and growing this historic cucurbit, you are partaking in a legacy of pumpkin cultivation that spans before the birth of the US as we now know it.
4. How to Grow a Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is botanically classified as cucurbits moschata. Plants can be annuals, perennials, or biennials, depending on the regional conditions and cultivation style.
Seeds should be planted two inches deep in mounds that are five feet apart, with six to eight seeds each. When seedlings grow, the mounds should be thinned to include only three to four of the strongest sprouts.
Good airflow and annual crop rotation helps create the most disease-resistant pumpkins. Use companion plants such as marjoram, basil, and nasturtium to enhance the quality of your pumpkins and protect them from pests. You can also plant them alongside corn and beans, to utilize the centuries-old “Three Sisters” technique that Native Americans taught early colonists.
The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin only requires about 100 days to mature, and can be planted as early as two weeks after the last frost.
The soil should be well-draining, and mixed with compost and manure to maximize nutrient absorption. These pumpkins love full sun and consistent watering. Reduce watering about two weeks before harvest for richer, more flavorful gourds. The result is the perfect pumpkin for cooking and baking.
Just remember that winter squash such as this variety are susceptible to downy mildew and powdery mildew if the leaves are too moist. To avoid this outcome, a drip irrigation system is the best solution for well-watered gourds that remain healthy throughout their maturation.
The stems are slender and woody, and will dry out whenever the pumpkin is ready for harvest. Be sure to leave an inch or two of stem attached to the pumpkin for the best shelf life. Once harvested, remove it from the garden and place your beautiful gourd in a dry place where it can receive sunlight for two weeks. This process, called curing, hardens the pumpkin and prevents deterioration.
Final Thoughts on the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is a treasured heirloom variety that can be used in all of your favorite pumpkin and butternut squash dishes. It’s easier to cook and richer in flavor than other gourds, and also adds a lovely autumnal aesthetic to your seasonal decor.
You can find your own Long Island cheese pumpkin seeds to add a touch of history and food activism to your garden, and reap the bounty of myriad culinary pleasures that this pumpkin offers.
Excited for more pumpkin content? Keep learning all about pumpkin plants to become an expert on pumpkin planting, growing, harvesting, cooking, and more!