Winter Squash

If the mornings haven’t already tipped you off, we’re on a direct course for Fall. It has been great for morale on the farm, as we are not only excited about dropping midday temperatures, but also the crops that come with this favorite season of ours. Last year we planted an heirloom variety of winter squash known as Seminole pumpkin, due to its amazing sweet flavor and its resistance to disease in this climate that fosters the dreaded downy mildew. Named for the Seminole people who had it in cultivation before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, it has remained a staple of southern natives and become a favorite of more recent immigrant European farmers. We loved it, but found that its main drawback was the yield of pulp versus the size and weight of the squash. In other words, when you cut it open there is a big cavity in the middle, which means it takes up more space while providing fewer calories.

The this year we are experimenting with a newer hybrid variety developed by Virginia seed breeder Edmund Frost. Our hope is that his cross of butternut squash and Seminole pumpkin will give us the flavor and disease resistance of the original while providing the more consolidated pulp characteristic to the butternut squash varieties. These are the solutions one must look for when operating within a very limited space while trying to produce practical storage crops for the cold months!

Speaking of storage, this brings us to the most important reason we like these varieties of cucurbita: they can literally last all year once harvested. After the fruit matures on the vine, and the vines themselves begin to die back, we harvest, separating grade A and B, and then allow them to cure in a cool dry spot for a few weeks. This enables the outer skin to harden so we can eat them throughout the winter. All three of us can attest that we’ve kept at least one of these guys at our respective homes in some forgotten corner, only to find it still intact and delicious in early Spring. The first wave of squash we’ll be giving to our CSA members will be some of the slightly weathered fruits that suffered cosmetic damage during their growth. We want to move through them quickly to we can begin providing more resilient squashes that will definitely last for months.

The World’s Simplest Squash Recipe:

One Seminole/Waltham cross (or regular butternut)

Butter (or another fat like coconut oil, rendered bacon grease, beef tallow, etc.)

Salt

Unless you have an aversion to certain textures, there is no real reason to peel and chop winter squashes. It is very tedious and frustrating work, and only becomes somewhat manageable with a sharp, brand-new vegetable peeler. In order to expedite the preparation and consumption of delicious winter squash, I recommend halving them, scooping out the seeds (setting them aside for a later use), seasoning them with salt, and placing a tablespoon of your fat of choice in the cavity. Set them on a baking sheet, and place in the oven for 25 minutes at 425 degrees. After this time has elapsed, pull the squash, and, using a medium-sized spoon, baste the squash itself in the melted fat and squash liquid that has accumulated in the cavity. Place the squash back in the oven, and continue to revisit every five minutes or so, basting just enough to create a nice shellac on the meat of the squash. Once a knife can be easily inserted into the thickest portion of the squash, you may turn off the oven and take the squash out to cool. From here, you can go in a lot of directions, the simplest being getting a spoon and going to town on your amazingly sweet boat of squash pulp. The skin should also be quite delicious for some people, and I recommend trying it, as it is highly nutritious! If you want to get fancy, you can scoop out all the pulp and use it for any pie, casserole, or soup recipe, or incorporate it into a mash of root vegetables. I also like to puree it with traditional fall spice like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove, as well as roasted diced apples, and more butter for an incredible side dish at family gatherings and parties during the holidays.

Bonus recipe: Squash seeds!

Take all the seeds you’ve set aside from the squash and place them in a large bowl of water. Seeds that have separated completely from the strands of pulp should float to the service, where you can then remove them with a mesh strainer. After the first wave of seeds is removed, massage the rest of the seeds still attached to pulp and they will begin to float to the surface. Keep repeating this process until you get bored, or you have gotten all the seeds; it’s entirely up to you how much you want to save and whether or not it’s worth wasting a little so you can get to cooking and eating faster! Also, don’t obsess about ridding every last bit of pulp from the seeds: it is completely edible and will wilt to a negligible amount in the oven.

Put all the seeds in a bowl after allowing them to dry briefly on a towel. Put one teaspoon of oil in the bowl, plus a few shakes of salt and mix to evenly coat. Place in the oven at 425 degrees and check every five minutes, making sure to stir the seeds around to they toast evenly. Once they are brown and crispy, you will be left with an delightful and healthy snack. Once thing I like to do with them is process them in a coffee or spice grinder, and sift them over ice cream. It tastes like popcorn!

Storage practice:

Squash is super hardy, and will last for a very long time on your kitchen counter. If you happen to have a cooler garage, where temps may be in the mid-fifties, that could be an even better location for your squash. Just be wary of mice: they will flip out when they find your prized orange globes. An easy solution for this could be suspending them in a basket, out of reach from rodents. I wouldn’t try sealing them in anything too compact, you will only cause ethylene to concentrate, which encourages ripening, and ultimately rot. A cooler environment also means more starches convert into sugar! Enjoy the winter squash at your leisure, but never take it for granted. A little bit of moisture underneath it could cause it to rot while your back is turned. Dryness and cool temps are the key to longevity.