Today at the Bayview Farmer’s Market (last outdoor market of the season!) we will have, along with many other great fall vegetables, a big showing of our bounteous winter squash crop. A wonderful local “fruit” (because squash is a fruit actually!) that many shoppers look at and pass simply because winter squash have become an unknown in our modern day American diet. And that’s such a shame!
Back when I was a kid growing up we would almost always have a 20 to 30 lb Sugar Hubbard squash sitting outside the kitchen door this time of year. When my mother wanted to bake some for dinner she would go tell me dad to “break up the squash.” He’d pick it up and throw it on the sharp outer edge of our concrete patio. Then bring in a few big chunks for my mother to cut up into smaller portions. She’d scoop off the seeds and put in the oven on baking sheet. Serve them hot with butter and salt. Yum. We’d leave whatever was left of the squash sitting outside on the patio and eat it all up within a week or so. Sugar hubbard squash, big, lots of calories and able to store for as long as a year, were a staple of many farm family diets and back when my dad was a kid almost every local central Whidbey farm grew them.
But things have changed. Most folks see a squash (or pumpkin…more about that later) at the grocery store and think “what do I do with that?” Especially a 20 to 30 lb squash/pumpkin! Well here’s the thing folks, get over it! Squash and pumpkins are versatile, they store, they are easy to work with AND they have the added bonus of looking pretty cool on your table/countertop/porch until you are ready to use them!
Now….the ubiquitous “squash” you will see listed on almost all squash recipes is “butternut.” This drives me crazy. For a couple of reasons. First of all, butternut squash are extremely hard to grow in the Pacific Northwest (we don’t get quite warm enough for them) so you will rarely find them available from local growers. Secondly there are so many, in my opinion, much more excellent flavored squash (and pumpkins) out there to use! Butternut to me is the “baby food squash.” Kinda sickly sweet and boring. And thirdly, because recipes list “butternut” squash as the ingredient, shoppers often don’t realize they can use pretty much almost ANY kind of winter squash or culinary pumpkin (vs. carving) in replace of a “butternut.” And your dish will almost guaranteed be better for it! Not to mention, out of all the beautiful colors, shapes and textures of winter squash, “butternuts” are the most plain and boring of them all. Boring!
French Warted Mallow! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and well, we think these are GORGEOUS!
The other things is the whole squash vs. pumpkin question. What IS the difference? Well, really, it’s mostly just a decision of what we decide to call a “pumpkin” vs. “squash.” And generally that is based on shape and/or color. It is “pumpkin shaped” and orange, definitely a pumpkin. But we also have pumpkin shaped BLUE varieties that we traditionally call a “pumpkin.” Confused much, yeah…All squash and pumpkins are from the cucurbita genus but there are 3 main types – cucurbita pepo, maximus and moschata. Traditional “pumpkins” are in the cucurbita pepo family but then so are summer squash, butternuts and several other definitely more “squash” like members. Also, some varieties we definitely call “pumpkins” are from the maximus family. Like the traditional “giant pumpkins.” So it’s really all just a mish-mash of pumpkins and squash and really the main thing to remember if you are cooking with them is you can use squash and culinary pumpkins interchangeable in recipes. Just make sure if you are using a “pumpkin” it is one grown for culinary purposes versus carving pumpkins, which generally are pretty stringy and hard to work with. Oh yeah, and btw, that “canned pumpkin” you get at the store. It is really comes from a type of squash, a variety called “neck pumpkin” and really, once you get used to the real stuff you’ll realize how awful it is. My great-grandmother Georgie used to have a saying about making sure to put plenty of spice into the canned pumpkin recipe so it “didn’t taste like cat shit” and well, I’ve gotta agree with that!
So take a chance, pick up some of those “scary” pumpkin/squashes and see what you can do with them! I’m including a bunch of links with so so many recipes. Oh, and another tip, if you get a real big one and can’t use it all at once just cook it all up and freeze up what you don’t and use have it for later! Easy peasy. Here’s a couple of great recipe links (I’m making the pumpkin chocolate chip muffin one this morning!) and a quick run-down on the sort of squash we have from Willowood Farm this year:
* Winter Luxury Pumpkin. An heirloom pie pumpkin. One of my favorites to work with for sweet dishes because is has a great creamy texture and lightly sweet flavor that is very delicate and sophisticated.
* Red Kuri squash. This is typically considered a Japanese “kabocha” type. It is creamy, nutty and amazing for soups and many other dishes. Deep orange flesh.
* Delica kabocha. A hearty, thick drier squash. Small size and will keep for a long time, getting better the longer you keep it. Great to bake.
* Cream of the Crop acorn. A very attractive white skinned acorn. Acorns tend to have yellow, sweet, lightly textured meat. Good for baking and many other dishes.
* Jarradhale Pumpkin. A blue Australian “pumpkin.” Along with being very attractive, this pumpkin offers a heavy, dense cavity of meat. Great for savory dishes and Australians often dice it into chunks and roast it with other savory winter vegetables (like parsnips, carrots, potatoes….).
* Sweet Meat squash. An Oregon heirloom and considered a “hubbard” type. Dense, sweet flesh. Often used for “squash pies.” Stores forever.
* Blue Hubbard. Very very old type, one of the oldest American strains. Great for storage and baking. Rich, thick flesh tends toward being a big dry and great for baking. Stores forever.
* Golden Hubbard. Similar to Blue Hubbard but cool orange-red color!
* Galeux d’eysinnes. A french “pumpkin.” Name makes “warted mallow” and on this one the sugars have broken out of the skin forming the “warts.” Very cool looking. Very sweet, moist flesh. Great for desserts.
* Queensland Blue. A very attractive, mid size Australian blue squash. With very good all-purpose sweet flesh used for many different recipes.
Hope to see you at Bayview market today!
Farmer Georgie, Willowood Farm of Ebey’s Prairie