Cucurbita landraces for culinary school (Copenhagen, Denmark)

I want to document my project of growing pumpkin and squash (Cucurbita maxima, C. moschata and C. pepo) for local adaption and productivity - eventually for flavor and usefulness in restaurant kitchens.

The project will take place in the kitchen garden for the culinary school I work at in Copenhagen, Denmark. My first goal is to grow out as much genetic diversity as possible, encourage cross-pollination and then let the resulting mix sort out the local adaption, disease resistance and perhaps indicate differences in productivity. This will be the first year of saving seed and I will try to save as much seed as possible.

For C. maxima, I’m growing out around 6-7 varieties, incl. Green Hokkaido, Fictor, Candy Roaster, Burgess Buttercup and Uchiki-kuri. On top of that a grex of 12 varieties generously sent to me by @ThomasPicard and later another grex (two seasons in) of 10 varieties by @Hugo - the latter I had to sow pretty late in the season and just planted among all the other squash, so I have no idea which of them are actually giving fruit now. I’m just happy to see that I’m already getting much more pumpkin and more different pumpkin this year than last year. And I haven’t even started saving seed!

This fall, I want to introduce the concept of breeding from the perspective of the kitchen to the culinary students at the school. My long-term idea is that they take part in selection. This year, we will arrange a thematic day with pumpkin before the frost. I want to line up all the fruit and order in some more from local colleagues that grow different varieties. Then we’ll cut open the pumpkin and do taste evaluations together. Students will vote on their favorite and seed from the best fruit can be labelled as first choice for next year. I would like to grow some seed from all the fruits, but this will introduce the idea (entirely new for both students and staff in practice) that we can breed the vegetables we want ourselves.

You can see some images of the pumpkin I’m growing on Pixelfed here: Malte Rod: "Diversity of maxima-pumpkin are high thi…" - Pixelfed. I’ll update this post with more images when we get around to harvesting.

BRANCHES:

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Great project. I look forward to future posts.

Good for you. That’s trailblazing

Ah i like that! Getting young fresh taste buds in to sélect favorites to Cook with!
And get thèm interested in breeding.
Excellent!

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It’s a very good idea to get people involved in the culinary field to get involved with selection and cross breeding. The results could be absolutely amazing. I myself love to cook and do many things and just knowing how it affects my selection and my drive to produce the best quality things let me know that it should be a success.

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The last couple of months, I’ve reserved Cucurbita fruits of different types for classes during “Pumpkin Days”.

Here are some of the squash from this year:





During those classes we look at the different species of Cucurbita, learn some of the subtypes (Hubbard, Butternut, Acorn, Zucchini etc.) with particular focus on how they taste and how they behave differently in the kitchen. We talk about the differences between eating immature fruit (zucchini, courgette) and mature fruit (butternut, most C. maxima) and why you might want to try eating mature courgette or immature butternut, for example.

I introduce the idea that chefs could take part in plant breeding and have an important say in which fruits to select from. I’ve made a schematic for them to learn how to evaluate the fruit. Part of the exercise for them is to begin putting words on what they see, smell, taste and think. Students taste and evaluate raw and then make preparations of their own choice with some of the fruit.

I didn’t know you can taste the level of starch in raw C. maxima, but it’s very recognizable like tasting raw potato (tip: those starches are also why you should be careful not blending your maxima-squash puree too long as you’ll get exactly the same kind of gluey, sticky consistency as blended potatoes - I love working with chefs, you get to learn these kind of things).

In one class, we stood around the table for around two hours tasting and talking until everyone had reached the point where you literally begin losing your senses. I don’t want to select to strongly this year as I want to keep the genetics fairly diverse early on in this project. We use all that sensing and evaluating to rank them all into 1st choice and 2nd choice. I will sow mostly from the 1st group and add in a little bit from 2nd next year.

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I taste every fruit before saving seeds. I inadvertently selected for soft skins, cause if I can’t cut through the rind of a squash, I don’t want to cook it, or save seeds.

After elimination of raw squash that don’t meet selection criteria, then I cook every squash before saving seeds from it. That really dials in the flavor for me.

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The taste test above was partly inspired by watching a video of you going through a bunch of squash to evaluate which to save seed from. It never occurred to me to taste the fruit raw when selecting before. I also got curious on your hypothesis about carotenoids in cucurbita maxima translating onto orange color, so that you could make a pretty good guess on flavor just from visual cues. We tried to make this assessment as we looked and tasted our way through. One thing we all noted is how some maxima-squash can have a clear cucumber-flavor raw, and that some of the greener ones (with less orange color and even a thick green line under the skin) could have a pronounced cucumber-flavor. I was very surprised to see two maxima-squash with juicy, but also pale yellow flesh and a thick green section come out favorably among several tasters. Both had the intuition to quick pickle them instead of cooking or frying them and I must say the result was quite nice. I come out of that experience with less understanding of what I actually like in squash haha! I will just continue to go on the ride and learn more, I’m obviously at the early stages of my cucurbit journey!

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I have loved some types of pickled squash, but I haven’t deliberately selected for that trait.

Some types of green color in squash can taste lovely.

I generally select for squash that taste great when fried in butter in a skillet, which might not correlate well with baking half fruits in the oven.

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I think there is correlation between taste and suitability to cool climate that might make little differences in ripeness. It’s really hard to say when they actually are fully ripe as there isn’t clear cut colour change. Also you can’t it say from flesh colour, although I can’t say I have seen really light coloured that were definetely ripe. If there are it’s still possible that yours are light coloured because they aren’t as ripe, hence cucumber taste. Same way it might be that what is orange as fully ripe isn’t as tasty when it’s still more yellow in colour whereas those that have vibrant yellow (with little orange) as ripe colour might taste just as good as ripe orange. Some might personally prefer fully orange and some yellow. I can’t say I have had enough experience as mostly what I have grown have been vibrant yellow and one orange fleshed (red kuri) that I remember wasn’t to my taste. That might have been other reasons and not because I wouldn’t like orange flesh in general. What I have opened this year have been from my own crosses that had plenty of time to ripen and had vibrant yellow flesh. They were some of the best I have had. Latest was really sugary when baked in oven, even little too sugary for savory cooking in my opinion. Maybe high sugar content is from them being more suited to my climate, who knows.

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We’re almost at the end of all the Cucurbitas. I can show you some images of the dishes the students made if you like to see more of the process.

One thing that surprised me: We stumbled upon one flat acorn squash (C. pepo) that tastes very starchy raw (students didn’t like). Then when they baked it, it came out of the oven almost identical to a baked potato. You could literally see the flakes of starch and the flavor reminded us of baked potato, or perhaps sweet chestnuts. I got curious to select for this trait, perhaps in a separate group because wouldn’t want unripe pepo to taste too starchy. Does these starchy types have a name? I didn’t know about this trait before.

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Yeah Rod! Show us the dishes. Might give me an idea of what to do with mine. Maybe i’ll open this vining Pepo which was starchy, soon.

Is this a similar trait that gives Delicata-types their honey sweet flavor? I have almost no experience growing ripe pepo-fruit for eating so all this is new for me. Hugo, did you have prior experience with starchy pepos?

On a personal note: I’'ll send you other seeds anytime :-)))
Apart from that : congratulations for all you have done this year! It is inspiring. Thus involving chefs is not something I considered, and now I get it. Thanks

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Which one got the best score/taste? green agern?

Very interesting topic. So you need to do two landraces, one for early eating and other for late storage?

How you save seeds from immature fruits? Just mark the plant with a band, and the second fruits will make the seeds?

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We found some outstanding fruits among this year’s harvest and I’ve marked those as selected. Those seed I will probably germinate individually to make their genetics take up more space. The rest I’ve sorted into 1st priority and 2nd priority and will take most seed from 1 and a few seed from 2, to keep it diverse. That’s for all three main species.

I have the same questions about how to practically select plants that are good for unripe eating. I will probably use some kind of marking band and also make sure to have a tasting workshop early in the year to identify the superior plants. But ideas are much welcome! This is very much an experimentation.

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I am interested in this type of trait. I wonder how to find it in my pumpkins? Just cook them and see what happens. This trait can occur in mochata’s?

Did they turn out well?

You can register the starches even when the fruit is raw. It’s not a particularly pleasant experience for most people. Think uncooked potato. It feels grainy and even astringent (dries out the mouth). But then cooked the starches change in the familiar way you know.

I think the mashed dish turned out decent. It was mostly the novelty and surprise, but that’s okay - it was a first attempt (not to be repeated until we get another fruit as starchy as that one).

Oh, interesting, all my mochatas taste very nice to me, so for now I don’t have any with high starch content. What I have noticed is that some of them tasted better cooked in the oven. Maybe preparation, maybe genetics, I do not know, but I’ll see if it’s due to some type of pumpkin in particular.

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