Post #G21-019: Dickinson pumpkin is a keeper

Posted on April 29, 2021

As I plant my garden this year, I realize that I need to finish eating last year’s produce.  Of which, this has been an ornament in my kitchen for the past six months:

That is a Dickinson pumpkin.  And today’s post is about how well that kept, for six months, with zero preparation on my part, just sitting out on the kitchen counter.

Answer:  Just fine.   I’ll be planting those again this year.

Details follow.

Fresh pumpkin in April

Pumpkins are hard to preserve in any form that remotely resembles fresh pumpkin.

I’ve tried dicing-blanching-freezing.  The results were recognizably pumpkin-like, but the texture was poor, to say the least.  Clearly edible, decent taste, but nothing you’d do on purpose if you had any other alternative.

You can pressure-can pumpkin in chunks (but not as a puree), per the National Center for Food Preservation.  I’ve never done that, but given that quarts require pressure-canning for 90 minutes at 250 F, I can’t believe the results would be good for anything but puree, once they were finished.

The only other preservation methods I’ve heard of give you something that does not resemble chunks of fresh pumpkin.  You can puree it then freeze it, puree it then dry it, or dry it in slices.  None of which is going to give you (e.g.) chunks of pumpkin for a vegetable stew.

There’s one other little oddity that’s worth mentioning: You can’t buy pumpkins, either.  Not in the off-season.  Pumpkin is such a marginal food source in the U.S.A. that grocery stores don’t bother to stock them, other than around Halloween.  (At least, not in the Washington DC suburbs).  And as far as I can tell, there isn’t even commercial product consisting of canned pumpkin chunks.  Every can of pumpkin on the shelf is pumpkin puree for pies.

As a result,  the only way to have fresh pumpkin, months after the season, is the old fashioned way.  You need to grow pumpkins that are good keepers.

That strikes me as odd.  Here, in the 2021, when the whole idea of “seasonal produce” is almost dead, when I can (e.g.) buy a watermelon at my local grocer in the dead of winter, my sole option for obtaining fresh pumpkin chunks out-of-season is to do exactly what they did 200 years ago.  Put a whole pumpkin into storage and eat it before it spoils.

Well, how does six-month-old Dickinson pumpkin taste?

Fine, in a word.

But first, I need to outline the complex methodology I used to preserve this pumpkin for six months.  You may want to take some detailed notes on this.

I harvested it, along with several others, sat it on the kitchen countertop and said “I’ll get around to eating that soon enough”.

That is, I did absolutely nothing.  I didn’t even store it in a cool place.  And what you see pictured above is the sole remaining survivor of last year’s crop.  All of which have now been eaten.

At six months, the whole pumpkin was softer than a fresh pumpkin would have been.  It took no effort to speak of to cut it in half, not much more than, say, cutting a cantaloupe in half.  And the “strings” that hold the seeds were a) mostly soft, not tough, and b) much higher in volume that I think is normal.  But because most of those strings appeared soft and edible, I left a good portion of them attached to the solid flesh, as you can see below.

The solid flesh was firm and the taste was fine.  Perfectly edible, with good texture and flavor, after sitting on the kitchen countertop for half a year.

I’ve settled on what I consider to be the easiest approach for peeling the raw pumpkin.  After halving it and removing the seeds, cut it apart along the “valleys” on the surface.  That’s pictured above.  Break off the individual pieces, and peel them as you would peel a carrot, using a sharp vegetable peeler.  This is much easier than trying to peel it whole, because the peeler won’t get down into those “valleys” if the pumpkin is whole.

If you’re making puree for pies, something I learned this year is that you don’t have to peel the pumpkin at all.  For puree, I pressure cook the unpeeled pieces for 15 minutes and let the pot cool down on its own.  At that point, my wife takes over, as she is the pie baker in the family.  She runs the overcooked, peel-on chunks through a blender.

The only downside of the Dickinson pumpkin is that it’s large.  You need to know what you’re going to do with it before you take a knife to it.  Hence, we made a big batch of chicken-and-pumpkin stew, and a batch of puree for pies, out of this one pumpkin.

A keeper in both senses of the word

I stumbled across the Dickinson pumpkin purely by chance.  Once I found out that this is a) an heirloom variety and b) it’s still the main variety of pumpkin that Libby’s plants and harvests, I was sold.  I figure if Libby’s plants it, it has to have something going for it.

It’s not actually, botanically, a true pumpkin.  It’s a large winter squash.  The exterior has the same tan color as a butternut squash, and that’s because this is in the same family as butternut squash.

I planted a few last year, on a whim, and I could not have been more pleased with the result.  Here’s a picture comparing a full-sized Dickinson to a “sweetie pie” pie pumpkin.  I didn’t keep formal records, but I’m pretty sure the Dickinson out-produced “sweetie pie” by a wide margin.

I had three problems growing these.  One was powdery mildew, which infested my garden last year.  I finally concocted a spray that would keep that under control, but in the end, I don’t think it was worth the effort. That’s summarized in Post #G20, from last year.

The second was deer, who would eat the leaves, but leave the pumpkins.  I eventually got enough deer-annoyance devices up and running that I persuaded the deer to leave them alone (Post #G07).

The final problem was squirrels.  In the fall, they began gnawing on my pumpkins.  After messing around with hot sauce, I tried a tip that I read on the internet, and covered my pumpkins with floating row cover.  That worked perfectly, and prevented any further squirrel damage.  That’s summarized in Post #G30, from last year.

So it wasn’t exactly a no-fuss crop.  Not in my suburban back-yard garden, anyway.  That said, I’m planting these again this year.  I’ll keep the deer and squirrels off them, since that takes almost no effort on my part.  But I have no plans to treat any powdery mildew that may form.  We’ll see how that all turns out.