ActivePaper Archive The Way They Roll - East Hampton Press, 11/21/2018


The Way They Roll


Kelly Ann Smith lives on Accabonac Harbor with her husband and three dogs and is fascinated by Bonac culture, pop culture, agriculture, poetry and nature —human and otherwise.

Walking into the Springs Community Presbyterian Church on Old Stone Highway smells like heaven—and it has nothing to do with the prayers of parishioners. It’s Long Island cheese pumpkin pies being baked in their ovens for the Springs Food Pantry by Share the Harvest Farm.

When Jess Tonn and Marielle Ingram, farm stand manager and farm manager, started their field plan for 2018 last January, they decided to plant Cucurbita moschata, or Long Island cheese pumpkins.

“We wanted to grow cheese pumpkins, but only if we could make pies out of them,” Ms. Tonn said, sitting on a church pew last Saturday. “If we hand someone a cheese pumpkin, it still seems intimidating, even if a recipe is given with it.”

Volunteers are baking 200 pies, with 100 going to the Springs Food Pantry and the other 100 going to Heart of the Hamptons Food Pantry in Southampton. “So far, we’ve baked 800 pounds of cheese pumpkins,” Ms. Tonn said.

It’s been a six-month process, starting with seed trays in the greenhouse. Seedlings were transplanted into the fields in June, and 1,000 pounds of cheese pumpkins were harvested in October. The squash cured in the hoop house for a month, hardening the skin and extending their post-harvest life.

“It’s so rewarding to get to see what you’ve accomplished,” Ms. Tonn said. “I love this project, because it’s full circle.”

As its name implies, Long Island cheese pumpkin is native to the region and is one of the oldest varieties cultivated in America. The skin is light in color, kind of peachy, deeply ribbed. The flesh is a beautiful, bright orange.

Cheese pumpkins produce a lot of flesh, but it’s firm, not stringy like an orange Halloween pumpkin. “I find the taste to be a little bit sweeter, a cross between a regular pumpkin and a butternut squash,” said Ms. Tonn. “The consistency of the flesh you’re using is nice and firm.”

Traditionally, it was used for pumpkin pies, until the canning industry decided that rounder pumpkins worked better on their conveyor belts. The cheese pumpkin resembles a big wheel of cheese. It’s short, squat and fat, so it doesn’t roll well.

“People stopped growing them in their backyards, because it was easier to buy a can,” said Ms. Tonn. Their vines also take up a lot of garden space.

Sadly, we almost lost the cheese pumpkin.

We have the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium to thank for starting the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Project in 2015. Seed saver Ken Ettlinger led the way by collecting Long Island cheese pumpkin seeds. Mr. Ettlinger has a passion for squash and a yearning for his mother’s Thanksgiving pie.

Ms. Tonn came across his mother, Josephine Columbus Ettlinger’s, Long Island cheese pumpkin pie recipe in an Edible East End story written by Slow Food’s Laura Luciano, who happens to be a friend of mine, as well as a Long Island cheese pumpkin “ambassador.”

The farm used seeds from Johnny’s Seeds. “Now you can buy seeds from national seed companies,” said Ms. Tonn. “A few years ago, you could only get them if you saved seeds from a pumpkin.” The farm is saving some seeds to use next year; the fruit produce so many seeds, however, that only one pumpkin will be enough for next year.

The cheese pumpkins were brought to the church on Thursday, November 15. It took two days to bake all the pumpkins, which were cut in half. After the seeds were scooped out, they were put on baking sheets to bake in the oven, flesh side down. “That way, it kind of steams itself on a baking sheet,” Ms. Tonn said. “Don’t peel it.”

They also had microwaves going. In the regular oven, it cooks in 40 to 45 minutes. In the microwave, it cooks in 12 to 15 minutes. If the pumpkin is cut into smaller pieces, the cooking time is shorter. “Once it’s soft, it’s so easy to scoop it out,” Ms. Tonn said.

They used cheesecloth to strain the puréed flesh, but a fine mesh wire strainer will work too. The purée was put in the fridge, and on Saturday they mixed the ingredients for the pie itself: pumpkin purée, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, and pumpkin pie spice—cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice. Pies are baked at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then another hour at 375 degrees.

Springs Food Pantry volunteers Holly Reichart and Anne McCann and Share the Harvest Farm board member Jane Baringer were in the kitchen, while the farm’s co-founder, John Malafronte, was folding pie boxes. Farm intern Jean Claude Nsengiyumva, a 22-year-old from Rwanda who is studying agriculture sciences in Costa Rica, was putting labels on the boxes.

“I found Share the Harvest Farm on the internet and loved what they are doing,” he said, adding that he thought, “It would be fun to be a part of that big cause.”

“He reached out to us out of the blue,” said Ms. Tonn. The timing was perfect: The farm lost all its summer interns by September.

One-Stop Market has helped by donating pie crusts with tins. Mary’s Marvelous donated the eggs. But they still needed sugar, evaporated milk and spices—so they started a fundraiser on Facebook.

“After 15 minutes we got a message from Carolyn Stec, the executive chef at the Mill House Inn, asking what we needed,” Ms. Tonn said. “People have been super generous, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

It took a community effort to keep the Long Island cheese pumpkin tradition going for Thanksgiving. When people in need get to put one on their table, it’s all worth it.

That’s just the way our community rolls.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.