A few weeks ago, someone asked me about peanut pumpkins.
I had to admit I'd never heard of them, but after a visit to a local produce farm, I found a display of the strange-looking squash that seem to be the curiosity of the season.
Peanut pumpkins are, in fact, a pink-hued squash with unusual growths on the surface that look ominously as though unshelled peanuts are crawling all over it. The growths look so realistic that one person even asked how to get the peanuts out.
If you saw a peanut pumpkin this season, you probably thought it was a new hybrid vegetable, but in fact, this is an heirloom variety of squash that dates back to the late 1800s. It is believed to have originated from the Bordeaux region in France and is a common market vegetable there at the end of summer.
In spite of its appearance, peanut pumpkins, or as they are known in France, 'Galeux d'Eysines,' should be taken seriously because they are not just popular for their looks, but are a delicious eating pumpkin too. Their taste is described as a cross between pumpkin and sweet potato and are said to be tastier than other cooking variety pumpkins.
According to Internet growers, peanut pumpkins are very similar to most other winter squash. It is a vining plant that can produce as many as four large pumpkins on one vine. As they grow, they look like any other squash, starting out green and gradually turning color as the globes get larger. But instead of turning orange, the peanut pumpkin takes on a pinkish tone that darkens to a salmon shade before the odd growths begin forming on its surface.
The growths are not peanuts, although they are dead-ringers for the legume. They aren't really warts or some strange predatory insect, nor are they a weird fungal disease. In fact, the emergence of the peanut-looking protuberances are an indication of how sweet Galeux d'Eysines really are.
The plants' ability to produce these growths is called corking. The sugars inside the fruit are so concentrated that the excess literally fractures the skin, oozes out of the cracks and hardens into the strange-looking nodules that cover the surface of the pumpkin.
Seeds for this French heirloom are available through several sources, including Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Territorial Seed Company and several other online seed producers. If your local garden center doesn't carry them, ask and they will probably be happy to order these seeds for next season's planting.
Even though it is easier to buy a can of pureed pumpkin from the grocery store shelf, I have grown and cooked my own pumpkin for a number of years. For several years I canned and preserved everything I could from our garden, including pumpkin. I pressure-canned pints of cubed pumpkin to put in winter soups and would puree the roasted flesh to store in the freezer to use in pies, holiday breads and cookies.
If you are thinking about buying or growing your own pumpkins, be sure to choose a good cooking pumpkin as the varieties often grown for carving jack-o-lanterns can taste rather bland and aren't worth the effort. Pumpkin shells are hard and difficult to cut and peel. Unless I was canning cubes, I would cut the top off and take out the seeds and roast the entire pumpkin on a baking sheet until soft enough to handle.
I haven't grown this variety yet, but it is on my list for next season. From what I've read about the variety, the flavor improves the longer it matures on the vine. Mature pumpkins range from 10 to 20 pounds and can be harvested in 90 to 100 days. Some growers advise to harvest the fruit while still slightly immature as they have a tendency to crack.