It is easy to find takers for perfectly round orange pumpkins -- but what about their ugly cousins? From wart-covered "Lunch Lady" gourds to mangled-looking "Turban" squash, these are the unconventional pumpkins.
"I personally like the look of them," says Don McKay, who grows more than 40 varieties at his place, Helen's Pumpkin Farm in Aquebogue. "The odd-looking, lumpy ones just go with the concept of ghouls and goblins."
When it comes to specialty pumpkins, McKay and other East End farmers say interest has been growing steadily, particularly in the past five years.
"People are so clever with what they do with them," says Al Krupski, of Krupski's Farm in Peconic. Gourds and unusual pumpkins make up about a third of his entire crop.
"I look for the strangest, funniest, unique ones," says Ted Maleska, of Bethpage, who came to pumpkin-pick at Krupski's with his wife, Lisa, and their two daughters. Their wheelbarrow is full of squat "Cinderella" pumpkins with deeply grooved reddish-orange skin and wildly colored gourds with winglike flaps. Some are destined for their porch -- others will be kept for display indoors.
His daughter Taylor, 15, picks up a chunky pumpkin that's completely covered with what looks like peanut shells.
"No, not that one," Ted says, as Taylor makes a face. Eventually, they settle on a peanut pumpkin that's only has about a third of its skin covered.
Ugly is alluring
At Ver Der Ber's Garden Center in Aquebogue, malletlike "Caveman Clubs" and thick-bodied "Snake" gourds get more lookers than takers.
"It looks like a hybrid experiment gone wrong," says Robert Dolce, of Manorville, eyeing a specimen that's nearly 3 feet long. "I'm not sure I'd take home some of the wacky looking ones."
The sentiment is shared.
"It is the ugliest thing ever," declares 5-year-old Grace Sjoholm, of West Babylon, wrinkling her nose at a greenish-brown bottle gourd shaped like an hourglass. Her dad Joe, 34, coaxes her to touch a lump-covered squash.
"I'd sit it right in front of the house for everyone to see," he says. Grace remains unconvinced.
Unusual is commonplace at Helen's Pumpkin Farm, where shoppers loaded wheelbarrows with colorful, curiously shaped gourds, big lumpy pumpkins and tiny ones with speckles and wings.
"It is beautiful, but I'm not sure what it is," says Nancy Crean, 47, of Miller Place, running her hand over a large orange gourd with rows of green warts. "I like the texture of them."
Into her wagon it goes, joining a red Hubbard pumpkin and some conventional orange ones.
Ellen Seles, of Williston Park, was particularly smitten by a green "Swan" gourd with a gracefully arched neck.
"You're coming home with me," she says, patting its head affectionately.
For more: Where to find 'ugly'
Many U-pick farms have some varieties of gourds or specialty pumpkins for sale. Expect to pay at least 10 cents more per pound than for conventional pumpkins -- gourds are often priced individually.
Helen's Pumpkin Farm
Union Avenue and Route 105, Aquebogue
More than 40 varieties of specialty pumpkins (69 cents a pound) and gourds.
38030 Main Rd. (Route 25), Peconic
Grows more than 30 gourds and unusual squashes priced from 69 cents a pound.
Ver Der Ber's Garden Center
459 Rte. 25, Aquebogue
INFO 631-722-4388, verderbers.com
Large and small varieties of gourds and pumpkins.