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South Carolina’s Perfect Pumpkin

For pies, loaves, and more, the Dutch Fork pumpkin reigns supreme

Illustration: John Burgoyne

Nathan Hood has cooked in kitchens from Dublin to Honolulu, but returning to the Charleston, South Carolina, area two years ago was a no-brainer. “I was very fortunate to grow up here and was brought up caring about the farmers and purveyors,” says Hood, the executive chef at Post House in Mount Pleasant, across the harbor from downtown Charleston. “You have some of the most fertile soil all around the Charleston peninsula, and some of the best fruits and vegetables I have ever come across.” One of his favorite finds hails from a bit upstate: the Dutch Fork pumpkin, an heirloom that ripens in autumn and sticks around through December. Descended from a variety grown by the Cherokee and cultivated since the early nineteenth century in the Dutch Fork area (where the Broad and Saluda Rivers converge to form a fork), it has a flavor similar to that of butternut squash but makes a silkier and smoother puree that’s unmatched for baking into pies and breads (see recipe). It’s also great for roasting and stuffing for a beautiful side dish at your holiday table. “The density of the meat really sets it apart,” Hood says. “As the meat cooks, it soaks in whatever you put in there while not breaking down and getting watery.” 

Once the preferred pumpkin for pies in South Carolina, the heirloom is now much rarer—grown mostly by in-the-know farmers and prized by chefs. If you find this large tan-hued, often irregularly shaped pumpkin—sometimes called the Old Timey Cornfield pumpkin—at the farmers’ market, consider yourself lucky and grab a few. They’ll keep in a cool, dry place for up to four months. Rotate them weekly, and if you notice signs of decay on one, use it right away. While making your own pumpkin puree takes a little more time than just opening a can, it’s well worth the effort. As Hood says, “It’s like comparing canned peaches to ones right off the tree at the end of summer.” 


  • Cast-Iron Pumpkin Bread (yield: 1 loaf)

  • For the pumpkin puree:

    • 1 Dutch Fork pumpkin (or substitute a medium butternut squash)

    • ¼ lb. unsalted butter

    • ¼ cup maple syrup

    • 4 sage leaves

    • 2 rosemary sprigs

    • 1 tbsp. salt

  • For the bread:

    • 2¾ cups flour

    • 1 tsp. baking powder

    • ¾ tsp. baking soda

    • ½ tsp. salt

    • ½ tsp. cinnamon

    • ¼ tsp. nutmeg

    • ¼ tsp. ginger powder

    • 1 cup pumpkin puree

    • ¾ cup sugar

    • 2 eggs

    • ½ cup vegetable oil

    • ½ cup crème fraîche

    • ½ cup goat cheese, room temperature

    • 1 tbsp. butter


  1. For the pumpkin puree: Preheat oven to 375°F. Split pumpkin top to bottom and scoop out seeds. Place the halves on sheet tray with cavities facing up. Evenly divide other ingredients into the 2 sides. Roast until very soft, about 45 minutes. Cool, discard herbs, and scoop pumpkin meat into food processor. Pulse until smooth, adding a bit of water as needed for consistency. 


  2. For the bread: Place a 12-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven and preheat to 350°F. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix first 7 ingredients until incorporated. In a separate medium bowl, whisk pumpkin puree, sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, crème fraîche, and goat cheese until smooth. With mixer running, slowly add wet mix, occasionally scraping down the sides with a spatula. Carefully remove preheated skillet from oven and add butter (twirl pan as it sizzles to coat). Pour batter into the skillet. Bake for 15 minutes, then check to see if a

    toothpick comes out clean. Continue checking every 5 minutes until done. 

  3. TIP: Roast the Dutch Fork seeds. You can then scatter them over the bread before baking for added pumpkin punch. Or just snack on them while the bread bakes.