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‘Ugly’ pumpkins at LI farms add variety for Halloween

At Rottkamp's Fox Hollow Farm in Baiting Hollow,

At Rottkamp's Fox Hollow Farm in Baiting Hollow, Teri Ottomano of Miller Place looks for just the right pumpkins to decorate her front porch. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

With skin like a toad, the peanut pumpkin may not be the prettiest in the patch, but it’s expected to be particularly popular among this Halloween’s pick-your-own crowds.

“It’s out of the ordinary,” Donald McKay, owner of Helen’s Pumpkin Farm in Aquebogue, says of the distinctive-looking pumpkin, which — although covered with peanut-shell-shaped bumps — is among the more popular newer varieties grown and sold at his 50-acre property.

“Everybody needs one traditional pumpkin on the porch,” McKay says, “but to mix it up for Halloween and add something spooky, one of these pumpkins that looks like a giant frog with all these bumps on it, adds atmosphere.”

A DIFFERENT LOOK

Fans of “ugly” pumpkins — more charitably known as “fancy” pumpkins — can revel in what McKay calls “a good year for pumpkins,” helped by one of the driest summers on record. A number of farms have recently tested and added new and unusual varieties, so if you want your jack-’o-lanterns splotchy, bumpy or squat, you can find plenty of options off the beaten patch.

Nowadays, 25 to 30 percent of Long Island’s 1,200 acres of pumpkin fields is planted with nontraditional seed varieties, according to Sandy Menasha, the vegetable and potato specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead. Feeding the fancy pumpkin frenzy: the new varieties regularly being developed through traditional crossbreeding by big seed companies and university researchers. The percentage of such pumpkins grown in East End fields is “up from about 15 percent 10 years ago,” Menasha says.

When it comes to fancy pumpkins, it’s a case of “if you plant it, no matter how weird, they will come.”

“Kids like different things, and as more and more people are getting more in tune with getting back to the farm, they are interested in these new and usual varieties,” Menasha adds.

At Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm in Calverton, this year’s crop includes bumpy Hubbard squash in a rainbow of colors, as well as white pumpkins and pumpkins “on the bright blue side,” says Jeff Rottkamp, whose family has been growing winter squash here for 60 years.

“Everyone has a different preference,” he explains.

Another unusual variety, orange-yellow neck pumpkins, are popular sellers at Stakey’s Pumpkin Farm in Aquebogue. About a half dozen of the 18 varieties grown on the 26-acre pumpkin farm are fancy, says Jim Stakey.

“They like that we offer the unusual pumpkins and not just pumpkins you would carve a jack-’o-lantern in,” Stakey says.

BEYOND BASIC

Here are other choices to spice up your porch, kitchen table or bay window with some pumpkin variety:

ONE TOO MANY The smooth-skinned orange and white speckled pumpkin reminds farmers of the bloodshot eyes of someone who’s taken “one too many” trips to the saloon.

CINDERELLA These flat, reddish-orange heirloom pumpkins take after the coach Cindy took to the ball.

WHITE Casper has nothing on these ghostly white gourds. The white New Moon pumpkin is new this year at Stakey’s.

JACK BE LITTLE These mini-pumpkins are popular with kids on school field trips because they can easily be carried home.

TURK’S TURBAN Resembling an upside-down hat, the squash has a variegated green and white and orange coloring.

THE LONG ISLAND CHEESE PUMPKIN Developed by a Long Island farmer about 50 years ago, with the coloring of a butternut squash, it serves equally well for decoration and pie filling, Menasha says.

Newsday’s Fall Funfinder

newsday.com/fallfun

From pumpkin picking and hay rides to late-season apples and corn mazes, our guide is a farm-by-farm look at what’s happening during harvest season. Use it to plan your visit.

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