If you’re searching for a new sidekick for your Thanksgiving turkey, you need look no further than your local farmers’ market. There you will discover a plethora of perfect candidates: heirloom squashes, pumpkins, and gourds.
These oddly shaped and colorful orbs are at their peak. Varieties of the species vary widely in shape and size, ranging from the common acorn, crookneck, and butternut to more exotic varieties like the white scallop, carnival, delicata, buttercup, dumpling, and cocozelle. Hudson Valley farmers J&A Farm in Goshen, New York; Chatham’s Little Seed Gardens; and Mead Orchards in Tivoli, New York, all grow a dazzling array of these fall beauties and offer them at green markets throughout the county.
When choosing a pumpkin or squash, look for one that is unblemished and firm. They are actually fully ripened on the vine before they are harvested, so you don’t have to worry about their maturity.
These fruits (yes, they’re fruits) are versatile and can be baked, broiled, stewed, stuffed, frittered, puréed, made into soups and bisques, or roasted. They are folded into pies and mousses, packed with savory stuffing, used as a filling for ravioli or empanadas, and even, as in the case of the spaghetti squash, used as a substitute for pasta. The roasted seeds are a treat and can be eaten out of hand or, when shelled, used as you would a nut such as in a pesto, brittle, or butter.
My favorite for its dramatic eye appeal and flavor is the turban. Its unique shape and coloring, as well as its sweet, tender flesh, make it an instant hit. Remove the stem and some of the surrounding flesh, scoop out the seeds, and season the inside with a traditional pumpkin spice blend (or curry powder for the more adventurous). Then slice in a few pats of butter and add a drizzle of honey, maple syrup, or molasses. Replace the top and bake at 350°F until just tender.