It’s finally fall! Or, as we like to call it in New England, pumpkin-flavored everything!
There are pumpkin lattes, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin bread, pumpkin potato chips, pumpkin beer, pumpkin cookies and the list goes on. The interesting thing about this phenomenon is none of these things taste remotely like the orange gourd that has become so ubiquitous in the fall culture of the northeast.
The pumpkin is a single variety of a wide range of winter squashes and ironically, one of the most flavorless among them. This is the crux of the pumpkin phenomenon. Although the pumpkin, or Cucurbita Maxima, has been cultivated to grow in abundance in this particular region of the planet, it has always lacked the distinctive flavor we associate with the orange orb.
Enter the “winter spice” profile. Pumpkin spice, or winter spice, is the flavor profile most misrecognized as something that it’s not.The combination of ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon, paired with brown sugar, creates the flavor and scent that graces every candle labeled “Fall Pumpkin Spice”. Although pumpkins do have their own distinct flavor, these spices are what people commonly associate with the squash.
This lack of flavor does not, however, apply to all winter squash varieties. With well over fifty different and distinct winter squashes, there are just as diverse flavor profiles. The Red Kuri with it’s dark red flesh and chestnut-like flavor; the Giant Blue Hubbard with a bright yellow/orange flesh and sweet potato flavors; the Buttercup with a unique shape and a dry, sweet flavor. Any one of these pepos can benefit from some, or all, of these pungent winter aromatics.
Stop by your local farm or farmers market in the coming weeks and see what interesting varieties they have available. Then, get to work mixing and matching flavors. My current favorite is roasted acorn and buttercup squash mixed with ginger and nutmeg. Combine with sautéed onions and puree. Delicious.
Save the big orange pumpkin for carving your jack-o-lantern and experiment with great flavors. Try a new squash every week. But hurry; unlike the pumpkin invasion of 2015, winter squashes have a shorter shelf life.