Delica Pumpkins have dense, vividly orange flesh that caramelises easily due to its high sugar content. They have an intense, buttery flavour.
On Oscar Zerbinati’s farm near Mantua in Northern Italy, the seasons are split between Sun Sweet Melons and Delica pumpkins. Both this rural area of Lombardy and the Zerbinati family itself are widely celebrated for their cantaloupes, but when summer comes to an end, Oscar’s commitment to flavour takes on a surprising new form in the Delica.
Delica pumpkins are squat and irregular, each presenting a completely unique landscape of scarred, green-grey skin. Yet this lack of conformity is only skin-deep; when grown correctly, these pumpkins have a depth of flavour that consistently sets them apart. Beneath each gnarly rind, we find densely packed, vibrant flesh that smells distinctly sweet and stays firm once cooked.
This unique combination of texture and flavour can only be achieved through meticulous growing methods and a concerted effort to reduce the water content of each pumpkin. Focusing on depth of flavour rather than yield, the Zerbinatis sow their pumpkins outdoors, with plenty of space between each plant. As the young fruits develop, Oscar dusts them with a fine layer of white chalk to shield them from sun, watering them only when strictly necessary to ensure a firmer flesh and fuller flavour.
Finally, when Oscar’s Delicas come to maturity, they aren’t immediately stored or sold, but slow-cured in rooms heated by woodburning stoves. Keeping the pumpkins warm without losing them to humidity and rot is a delicate balancing act. However, to the Zerbinatis, this perilous curing process is crucial. It allows the natural sugars in each pumpkin to develop while reducing the amount of water in the flesh, leading to a more compact structure and a sweeter fruit.
Oscar stamps each Delica with the same red wax he uses to seal the cantaloupes in summer. This may seem like an unnecessary flourish but it is a Zerbinati tradition. To us, it serves as a marker of ripeness and a reminder: depth of flavour matters as much in a winter squash as it does in a summer melon. Here in Lombardy, there is no winter lull; perfectly ripe flesh is a year-round endeavour.