Pumpkin eaters rejoice! Long Island cheese pumpkin is back

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Long Island cheese pumpkins.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Long Island cheese pumpkins.

Though at first glance they may all look the same not all pumpkins are created equal.

Truth is, when it comes to cooking local chefs swear by the flavor of the Long Island cheese pumpkin.

On October 23, this heirloom pumpkin (so named because it resembles a wheel of cheese) will be the star attraction at Slow Food East End’s annual Fall Market Dinner at 18 Bay Restaurant on Shelter Island where chefs Elizabeth Ronzetti and Adam Kopels will create a four-course menu spotlighting its culinary virtues.

Though there’s no word yet on exactly what the chefs have in store for Slow Food diners, we can say that this pumpkin is one variety that we almost lost in recent decades.

That’s because while Long Island cheese pumpkin seeds were available until the 1960s, they began disappearing as Midwestern pumpkin hybrids flooded the market.

Along the way, the cheese pumpkin was largely forgotten and even farmers stopped saving its seeds.

But in the late 1970s, Ken Ettlinger, a local seed saver and natural science educator, founded the Long Island Seed Project, a seed bank designed to save local species, including the cheese pumpkin.

Earlier this year, the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium launched the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Project as an effort to raise awareness of this local variety. It’s currently listed among the 200 foods in Slow Food USA’s “Ark of Taste,” a living catalog of distinctive regional foods facing extinction in this country.

So even though the Long Island cheese pumpkin may be less common than it once was, the good news is, it’s making a comeback to the point where we can all enjoy it once again.

Come on over and give it a try. It’ll be interesting to see what chefs Adam and Elizabeth do with Long Island’s favorite heirloom pumpkin.

Slow Food East End’s Fall Market Dinner is Sunday, October 23, 5 to 8 p.m. A cocktail reception begins at 5 p.m. followed by dinner, 18 Bay Restaurant, 23 North Ferry Road, Shelter Island.

This year’s dinner honors Susan and Myron Levine, founders of the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation, which support charitable programs that promote good farming practices, healthy eating, education and a sustainable environment. The Levines will receive the second Carlo Petrini Award. The foundation is named for the couple’s son, Joshua, who was killed in a 2010 tractor accident while working at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett.

The Fall Market Dinner is $110 ($95 for Slow Food members). Reserve at slowfoodeastend.org.