Istanbul, Turkey
October 06
A "walking cultural collision."


Kipouros's Links
OCTOBER 4, 2010 8:10AM

Fall Pumpkins

Rate: 4 Flag

Bungkan, Triamble, Seminole, Acorn, Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck, Futtsu...

When I was a kid, there was a lady in our neighborhood (every neighborhood had one) who roamed the streets, monstrously overgrown zucchini in hand, attempting to palm them off on unwitting neighbors. That lady was my mom, and I, for better or worse, have become my mother. Only my squash are supposed to grow big, and most people like getting them!

Summer was also a bit more depressing this year than usual, because much of this part of the world was gripped in a giant cloud of humidity that just didn't let up. Istanbul is a humid city, relatively, but it usually lasts a few days, after which we are saved by a stiff breeze down the Bosphorus. This year, that breeze never came. Clothes mildewed in the closet, we had to pull up all the carpets to keep them from molding. I even went to make brownies one day, and opened a package of cocoa to find that it had turned green with mold. I thought that sort of thing only happened in Puerto Rico during the wet season.

And as is typical of Istanbul weather, it suddenly came to an end. Seasons do not change gradually here but in fits and starts, as if two enemy weather gods are at battle. It's all or nothing, with lands passing back and forth between them until one declares a solid victory. After a brief reprieve in early September it was Indian summer (or pastrami summer as they say here), almost as hot and oppressive as "real" summer had been. Then, suddenly, autumn came, at 3:15 a.m. on Saturday. And now we have one of those glorious, gleaming fall days where you can practically see into the windows of houses a mile away. But you can't be too fooled by it, it could just as well be pouring rain in an hour.

Of course, during all this time, there was a garden out there, mostly loving all this moisture. During the month that I was in the States, it rained nearly every other day, and I came back to find that out in the garden, pretty much every last weed seed lurking anywhere near germinating depth had sent out its roots and grown into tree-like proportions. Some plants unaccustomed to a steady drip did give up the ghost and turned to fertilizer for their neighbors, but the six different kinds of winter squash (Why so many? Because I'm obsessed, that's why.) completely outgrew their bounds, invading my housemate's garden, the neighbor's garden, and ensuring that the children of the parking lot attendants down below us will have no beta carotene deficiencies this year.

 Here, when it starts raining regularly, the snails come out in armies, and they seem to love to gnaw on the stems of pumpkins. If they do, it increases their chances of rotting, so I decided to go ahead and harvest them.

Why not a few more?

I don't know why I'm so attracted to squash. I like eating them as much as the next person, but if it were all about that, I'd be perfectly happy to grow one or two, and buy the rest from the market. It's more that squash make me happy. Their colors, their texture, their improbable shapes, and the exuberance of their vines as they transform the landscape into a sea of enormous spreading leaves; or in the case of the Seminoles, hang like ornaments from an old dead apricot tree. The fact that they're edible is a nice bonus, and probably the only reason I'm not growing gourds instead. Squash are extreme, in everything they do. Even smaller-seeded ones announce their germination with thick, spreading seed leaves, they grow apace, they produce the largest and most fragrant flowers in an edible garden, with abundant nectar for the bees.

There is also an element of patience involved; unlike a zucchini, you know you (mostly) won't get to harvest anything till the autumn, so you nurture them throughout the entire season. And in February, while the tomatoes and peppers and green beans are long gone, you continue to enjoy the fruits of your labor, both in the kitchen but also visually and tactilely, and you remember watching the flower bloom, and the miniature fruit grow, don its color, and mature. Amy Goldman kept a specimen of the beautiful Australian "Triamble" pumpkin on her mantlepiece for two years. I'm not sure I'll keep any of mine around for that long, but I know that every time I walk into the kitchen, I will enjoy running my fingertips over its hard, smooth surface.

See me, feel me, touch me, feel me...

Then again, maybe I just need to get laid more.


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I think many people are attracted to squash and gourds. We all use them for decoration, not just to eat. Rated.
I need to know why that season is called pastrami summer. And what are those very bumpy pumpkins called? The other ones, not that fabulous Triamble.

Totally get the love of squash plants and squash. I think of them as being almost sentient, which is why I like and fear them.
I have to admit - I don't really like eating them . . . but I do like looking at them! Beautiful piece.
Mumbletypeg - It's called "pastırma yazı" (pastrami summer) because its breezy, warm and dry, and the perfect time to cure pastırma - the Turkish take on Pastrami. Or probably pastrami is an Italian take on pastırma, since it comes form the word "bastırma," which means "pressing" and refers to the salting and pressing process of the filet. It's then coated with a mixture of pepper, garlic, fenugreek and other spices, and hung to cure.

The gray flat bumpy squashes are Bungkan, also known as Bungkarn or Bung Karn. They're from Thailand. They're ready to eat when they are dark green and just starting to look dusty, like a raku flying saucer (there are a couple at that stage in the lower picture, they'll still ripen on their own) but they're at their best when fully ripened. They're also really productive - I have six or seven more out there that may or may not make it to maturity. It's a really rampant thing though, so make sure you have room; and if there's a tree around it will climb right up into it and fruit there!

I also recently discovered that truly unripened butternuts (or their ancestor, Penn. Dutch Crookneck here) are as good or better than any zucchini I've ever eaten. When they start turning orange inside they get an odd tartness but are okay in some dishes.
@ Mumbletypeg again - It occurred to me that you might have been referring to the bumpy orange one - that one is Futtsu (aka Futsu), an heirloom Japanese cultivar.
I am totally dropping Indian summer in favor of pastrami summer now. Bungkan - want those. Interesting about the butternut - I've never heard that. Of course, if you have zucchini you don't really need a substitute for zucchini, but the next time I grow butternut, I will try that, for science.
@Stella Yes, you should, you have lots of room for an extravaganza! Let me know if you want some seed of Triamble or Seminole. The others' purity I can't vouch for since they were growing together and I didn't go out and do hand pollination.

It was a busy summer, besides the US, I also translated a musical dictionary, a guide to Istanbul meyhanes and a makam guide, and did a couple weeks in Thessaloniki interpreting for the International Fair. And just got back from interpreting in Samos too. Something about having so many other people's words in my head, I can hardly find room for my own...