The long pie pumpkin, a variety of Cucurbita pepo, actually looks more like an overgrown, orange zucchini than a “normal” pumpkin. It is said to have come to Nantucket from São Jorge Island in the Azores on a whaling ship in the early 1830s. In the early days, it was known simply as the Nantucket pumpkin. It was well suited to the maritime climate of coastal New England and, over the years, made its way north to Maine; it was so popular in Maine’s Androscoggin County by the 1930s that people who grew up on farms in this region supposedly never saw round pumpkins until they left home. Their cylindrical shape makes long pie pumpkins easy to stack, and Mainers used to stack them on the porch like cordwood.
The long pie pumpkin has smooth skin and faint ribbing. In the field, it is dark green with an orange spot at the point where it rests on the ground. As it ripens, the whole fruit turns orange. This open-pollinated variety has vigorous wines and takes about 100 days to reach full maturity. It thrives in rich, well-drained soil and has good resistance to squash borers and squash beetles. It can be started in the greenhouse and then transplanted into the field, or the seeds can be planted directly in the field after risk of late frosts has passed. In this case, it is best to plant 4-5 seeds together in a mound and then thin the seedlings, leaving the three that are healthiest. The pumpkins usually grow to a weight of 2-3.5 kilograms, but can get larger. This variety can be left on the vine quite late into the fall season, as it will tolerate one or two light frosts—in fact, exposure to frost improves the flavor. Allowing the foliage to wither and die back also makes harvest easier. Once harvested, the pumpkins should be stored in cool conditions to allow their texture and flavor to develop fully. The flesh of this variety is meaty and fine textured, with virtually no strings. This, along with its deep, sweet flavor, is what makes it such a good pie pumpkin.
By the 1980s, this variety had fallen into obscurity, along with other sweet pumpkins, being replaced by jack-o’-lantern varieties that were not intended for eating. In the early 2000s, work began in Maine to revive the long pie pumpkin, but heavy rains in the summer of 2009 destroyed most of the crop. Renewing America’s Food Traditions and Chefs Collaborative engaged with 94 chefs in 2010 to champion New England heirloom vegetables, including the long pie pumpkin. Today, several seed companies in the Northeast supply this variety. It is a great reminder of a time when pumpkins were grown for their flavor rather than just for decoration, and when farmers and gardeners relied on pumpkins as an important and versatile food source during the winter.