As Fall’s first chill creeps into the air and the trees tinge yellow and brown, OSGF’s Bio-Cultural Conservation Farm (BCCF) begins to harvest October’s most iconic fruit: the pumpkin, an essential part of Appalachian diets (as well as Halloween-themed doorsteps) for hundreds of years.
Pumpkins are a type of winter squash, along with butternut squash, candy roasters, and green striped cushaws, which are also grown at the BCCF. The BCCF, which was established in Spring 2019, is thrilled to bring in its first-ever crop of heirloom winter squash, all of which have a rich history in Appalachia and surrounding regions, said farm manager Christine Harris.
“They’ve been used by mountain people for a long time,” she continued. “We’ve already harvested 500 pounds (of pumpkins and squash).” Some of the crops are destined for the OSGF kitchen, while others are donated to the Seven Loaves Services, Inc., food bank in Middleburg, she said.
The two pumpkin varieties swelling on the BCCF’s vines - the Long Island Cheese, named for its resemblance to the dairy product, and the Seminole, which is traditionally grown further south - have particularly long, and at times complex, traditions in North America.
The Long Island cheese, favored by nineteenth century cooks for its buttery flavor, vanished from seed catalogues in the 1970s due to the rise of the canned food industry, which preferred rounder pumpkin varieties. Cheese pumpkins were sold as porch decorations, if at all, while farmers focused species with more market value. An effort spurred by Long Island native Ken Ettlinger to save cheese pumpkin seeds and reintroduce the vegetable as a tasty cooking ingredient brought it back from the brink.
The Seminole, thought to have originated in the humid forests of Florida, has a similarly interesting legacy. Spanish conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez wrote of seeing Native Americans in Florida cultivating the gourd-like pumpkins in 1582, and naturalists in later centuries reported pumpkin patches raised by the Seminole people living in the Lake Okeechobee Glades and Big Cypress Swamp. While many squash species cross-pollinate with each other, the unique Seminole reseeds itself every year, resulting in a fruit largely unchanged from what sprouted in the Southeastern wetlands hundreds of years before.
So the next time you pay a visit to the local pumpkin patch, consider scooping up one of these varieties - and bake a little history into your Thanksgiving pie.
Interested in learning more about the BCCF, and its mission of conserving and promoting heirloom crops? Visit https://www.osgf.org/bccf.
Hernandez, Katherine and Luciano, Laura. “Reviving the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin.” Slow Food USA, 17 Nov. 2017, https://slowfoodusa.org/reviving-the-long-island-cheese-pumpkin/.
Worthington, Veronica. “The Incredible Seminole Pumpkin.” Edible Cape Cod, 18 Nov. 2016,