Tom Roberts and Lois Labbe started Snakeroot Organic Farm 25 years ago on a small parcel in Pittsfield. They planted tomatoes and cucumbers and garlic and other fruits and veggies. They tapped maples too. But long pie pumpkins are a particular point of pride. Though there was a time when the markedly oblong squash was a popular crop in Maine, Roberts and Labbe are one of its few stewards nowadays.
Some sources say the long pie pumpkin might be an old Native American varietal, others that it arrived in New England from the Azores in the 1830s, via a whaling ship. Regardless, it found a receptive audience among 19th-century Mainers, at least in part because it was hardy enough to store through long winters.
But as mass agriculture grew increasingly homogenous and grocery stores started stocking canned pumpkin (which is often actually a mixture of other squashes), the long pie pumpkin nearly disappeared. It was only saved when, in the 1980s, a man from Lisbon Falls, LeRoy Souther, brought a sample to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s annual Common Ground Country Fair, where plant breeder John Navazio took notice. Navazio reintroduced the seeds to the commercial market via a Montana seed-supply company. Today, home gardeners can turn to Maine-based Fedco Seeds.
Generally, pie pumpkins differ from carving pumpkins in that they’re smaller and sweeter, and pie diehards still favor the long pie pumpkin above others for its wholly unstringy texture and its vivid-orange flesh. Roberts and Labbe publish a pamphlet to help propagate their love of the gourd. The pamphlet is part history, part instructional, part paean, noting that the long pie pumpkin “was once and remains highly esteemed as the best pumpkin for Yankee pumpkin pie.”
When harvested in late September, long pie pumpkins are green. By November, they’ll ripen to orange and be ready for pie making. Follow these steps to make a puree, then combine with ingredients from your favorite pumpkin-pie recipe. One 6-inch long pie pumpkin should make plenty of filling for a 10-inch pie — no need for the canned stuff.
1 Cut in half and clean out seeds and pulp.
2 Chop into chunks, removing stem but leaving skin.
3 Steam on stovetop for 15 to 20 minutes.
4 Scoop flesh with a spoon to remove skin.
5 Blend with a hand beater, blender, or food processor to desired consistency.
Get all of our latest stories delivered straight to your mailbox every month. Subscribe to Down East magazine.