On 10/10/10 I drove slowly through the Orient Point Park and wildlife reserve, which lies like a ribbon stretched out alongside the Atlantic Ocean at the easternmost tip of Long Island, New York. I was on the lookout for my old friends, the box turtles, who live quietly there (with turtle crossing signs to protect them) but was instead greeted by multitudes of dancing Monarch butterflies. The causeway I was driving was apparently also their flyway, and I was in the midst of a migration event. Hundreds of orange wings seemed all to be coming my way, bright and perfect triangles, presenting themselves at every angle and elevation against the blue backgrounds of sky and sea. Flying and floating up, down and sideways in the ocean breezes, looking like matching bits of orange silk, they created a motion picture with me in the middle. Magical.
That was just the beginning of the seasonal Long Island celebration of Orange.
Along the truck routes and farm roads of easternmost Long Island a red, orange, yellow and green palette holds sway at this time of year, the landscape canvas painted by the things growing there. All together they establish an ecoesthetic character for the farms and fields of the Island in fall. Every year I can look forward to the myriads of orange pumpkins showing brightly against the khakis of hay, sand, burlap, bushel baskets and corn fields.
The hand of man brings this harvest together, gathering the colonist pumpkins from the fields and seating them all together like a audience of quiet citizens amid the flattering yellows and russets of shrubs, trees and the harvest produce of the season. The red Radio Flyer ® wagons that you can take to the field to hunt up and pick your own pumpkin citizens seem just right for the purpose, their cheerful red echoing the mellow reds of harvested apples, shallots and the glowing hot red peppers hung to dry.
Hefty sacks of potatoes, hills of onions, tables of garlic and armloads of broom corn stalks line the roads in farmstands. The pumpkins are simply everywhere riding on the farm wagons which are covered from stem to stern with characters of all sizes. Most of these were the usual range of oranges, but I am delighted to report that the Cucurbita maxima Jarrahdale, a gray blue type of pumpkin, is now apparently being freshly appreciated and enjoyed alongside its orange cousins. Though known on Long Island since the 1800s, this kind was not much seen for a long while in the 1900s. Like heirloom tomatoes, there are heirloom squashes, and they too need preservation. It is said that Jarrahdales can easily keep a year in cool storage, and so they are a valuable food.
Jarrahdales are reputed to cross pollinate easily, which can be wonderful or annoying depending upon your purpose in growing them, but some of the outcomes can definitely be exciting from an esthetic perspective. I think certain individual beauties I met may have arisen from crisscrosses with other local varieties, since highlights of cream color or orange shone through some of their lovely gray blue skins.
The Jarrahdales mixed in, fifth and ninth from the left, and balanced in the center.
Another special pumpkin, Cucurbita maxima Moschata, is called the Long Island Cheese pumpkin. It got this name from its resemblance to a 10 pound wheel of cheese, in both color and shape. Deeply furrowed radially and quite symmetrical, it has an altogether elegant appearance.
Hmmm…If a particular Jarrahdale has deep furrows like a Long Island Cheese pumpkin, and creamy highlights in its grey blue overall, what do you think might have happened ? Anyway, I wonder, but these were just lovely, nomatter how they came into being.
Another more distantly related light gray blue Cucurbita squash is the somewhat homely Hubbard. Irregular in shape, but with its quality as a food to recommend it, the Hubbard originated as a named variety in my own hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts about a hundred and seventy years ago.
The story goes that in 1840, Captain Knott Martin brought a special squash found on his sea travels* back to Marblehead, and gave it to a Mrs. Elizabeth Hubbard. She in turn told her friend and neighbor, the up and coming Marblehead seed trader James Gregory, that it was the ‘best squash she had ever tasted’. Soon afterwards, Gregory developed this gray blue variety, and purveyed seeds of it, according it the name Hubbard squash in honor of Elizabeth. Hubbard kept extremely well in storage, and so by the latter 1800s was popular as a staple food, carrying many families through the long New England winters before the era of prefrozen vegetables and home freezer storage.
I am always happy to notice that the diversity index of what is grown on the Island seems to increase every year. Some kinds of things once only marginally available are now more visible. There is apparently lots of encouragement these days for rare and heirloom varieties of apples, tomatoes, squashes, chickens, unusual perennials** and other marvelous things.
Some of this years special finds included the most complete collection of pumpkin and squash varieties I have ever seen in one place, artistically arranged for the world to enjoy and purchase. Balsam Farms, in their roadside stand, with the fields and tractor in view, represented to me a sort of summarising of the diversity and beauty of that ecotome. The pumpkin and squash photos were taken there.
I was thrilled by the number of kinds of tomatoes, the multicolored carrots, the purple cauliflower hybrids, and unusual varieties of pumpkins in many colors and blends, warted and unwarted.
And then there were the heirloom apples from the local orchards, many tried and true but unsung varieties and local variations on varieties. Just to have a chance to witness this unique harvest was a privilege. The apples had all been freshly picked that morning. Their tastes and textures were each unique and memorable, though, I apologise, indescribable.
Remarkably there is a Raspberry farm*** featuring just picked and delicious yellow raspberries. If you need to refresh your drawer lavenders to discourage moths, the harvest is in. There is plenty grown on the 17 acres at Lavender by the Sea.
On the South fork in Amagansett there is now even a farm growing wheat. Amber Waves Farm will soon to be able to provide breadmaking flour to the area. In doing so they will be adding a missing grain to the local food web. At the farm there is an ethnically diverse population of Chickens wandering freely about, providing eggs of brown or gray blue, depending upon just whose they are. The farm is part of the of the Amagansett Food Institute, a nonprofit organisation with outreach to adults and schoolchildren, even in the youngest grades. Its mission is to show people how to grow and use locally produced foods, to encourage small farms and to provide food for people who don’t have enough.
Eastern Long Island is very busy on October weekends. If you can arrange to go during the week you will be able to see all the things better, and perhaps to talk to some of the farmers. Try to take a weekday off from your other work.
* The parent squash is thought to have originated in South America
** Glover Perennials, Cutchogue, wholesale only
*** Oyster Ponds Farm, Orient