Winter Squashes

You never use winter squash when it's green and small, the way you do summer squash. You let winter squash thoroughly ripen on the vine. Winter squash tastes way different too. It's a very nourishing vegetable, different from summer squash that way too, resembling sweet potato in taste, texture, and uses.

varieties: The winter squashes look very different on the outside, but all are grown, harvested, and prepared in a similar way, and they taste similar too. You can grow 5-lb. butternut or buttercup squashes, a 15-lb. Hubbard (a good pumpkin substitute in recipes), 25-lb. Marblehead squashes (seed available from Abundant Life), or 600-lb. giant pumpkins. The banana squashes get quite large too. Among the smallest winter squashes are the acorn, Delicata, and Sweet Dumpling squashes. All of those are just the right size for 2 servings. You can order Red Kuri and Pink Banana from Southern Seeds. Tahitian squash can be eaten like a summer squash when immature and treated like a winter squash when fully grown (up to 2 feet long). The "turban," or buttercup, squash can grow bigger than a foot in diameter and is a very good winter keeper. "Sweet dumpling" is a little one (4 inches across) from the Philippines. Use like an acorn. Delicata tastes best when its skin looks yellow and its stripes are nearly orange. The Asian "kabocha" squash, or "Japanese pumpkin," gets very big. The banana squash is a kabocha relative from Asia.

Pumpkin. Pumpkin is a kind of squash, a C. pepo. The pumpkins and the big winter squashes grow more pounds of flesh per plant than any other garden veggie I can think of. My problem has always been finding a way to use them other than letting the children make 6 jack-o'-lanterns apiece. When we harvest, the nicest ones are set aside to be jack-o'-lanterns. Lane Morgan says she likes to "go out in the field when they are getting big but are still green and thin-skinned, and incise the kids' names or designs or whatever into the skin with my thumbnail or a pocketknife. The cuts heal into a raised scar as the skin hardens (I've never had one rot from this treatment), and the result is a delight to the young ones when they search for their own monogrammed pumpkins at harvest time." After the jack-o'-lanterns have run their course, they go to the pigs.

Seeds from the world's biggest (500-700 lb.), smallest (2" x 3"), and many other varieties of pumpkin are available from pumpkin specialist Howard Dill Enterprises, RR#1, Windsor, Nova Scotia, BON 2T0, CANADA; 902-798-2728; fax 902-798-0842.

planting: Your winter squash will be ready to harvest in 80 to 120 days after planting, pumpkins in 100 to 120 days. Plant squash or pumpkins in early midsummer, after the weather is definitely past the last frost and has warmed up comfortably. Plant 1 inch deep, about 4 seeds to a hill, hills about 3 to 6 feet apart each way depending on your variety. Allow 7 to 10 days for germination. After the vines start to grow, be careful not to hurt them when weeding. And water—all winter squashes need lots of water, especially once they start making fruit. Harvesting and Curing: Leave winter squash or pumpkins out there until after the first frost or longer, but don't let them freeze. Then go out and cut the stems about an inch from the fruit. Let cure in the field for a few days or up to 2 weeks, depending on your weather. Then bring them into the warmest room in your house for the next stage of curing. At temperatures of 80 to 85°F, the rind will harden and the fruit will heal its own surface cuts. But handle gently, because the fruit can't heal itself of bruises, and the bruised places will rot first. Squashes so blemished they won't keep go to the pigs. If the squashes freeze, as soon as they start to thaw they also start to spoil, and your only alternative is to cook them all right away; then mash and freeze them, or can them.

Storing. Commercial squash crops are stored here in special barns where a fire is kept burning all the time in cold weather, so they won't freeze before markets open up for them. Then they are cut into big chunks and sent to market in an insulated truck. Stored squash and pumpkins must never freeze. That ruins them completely. It's best if they don't touch each other in storage; they tend to go bad at the point where they touch one another. If your regular checks show that you have one with a bad spot, just cut out the spot and cook up the rest of it. We keep ours in the attic, spread out on newspapers. Fortunately, I have a very large, cool attic. Wooden shelves would work fine for them, too.

I read a university handout which says that at over 60°F they get too dry, and at under 50°F they get "chilling injury." Everybody around here simply does the best they can to keep them from getting frozen, and that's good enough. Everybody's system is different. You just have to think about all the nooks and crannies of your own set of buildings, and don't put the squash in the root cellar (don't put onions or pumpkins there either) because dampness really harms them and will soon result in rot. We eat acorn squashes during the first part of the winter and then switch to the Marbleheads. With luck, some of those big squashes harvested in October will still be fine in late March; at worst, they'll make it to February. The ones that go bad are passed on to the pig. After the Marbleheads are gone, frozen squash is the best thing. You can freeze squash in the late fall and all winter at your leisure.

Squashes for Fodder. The big winter squashes are useful as winter food for people and for animals too, especially goats. If you can't raise grain, you can winter your goats on stock beets, carrots, and squash, along with just a little purchased grain and hay. Cows or pigs will use winter squashes for winter feed too. Rotted squashes or bad spots you've cut out can go to the pig. Squashes have to be cut into pieces before you give them to the animals. Cutting. Cutting big stored squash is really a job. The longer they have been in storage, the tougher the peel gets. You can open tough squashes by literally hammering a butcher knife through the shells. Or saw the shells. Always cut lengthwise.

Preserving Squash or Pumpkin

Freezing. Cut open your winter squash or pumpkin. Remove stringy fibers and seeds (save them for seed or snacks). Cut into pieces and cook until soft in as little boiling water as possible. Or steam in a pressure cooker or bake in the oven. You can bake a whole big squash; it takes about 2 hours. Then you cut open, remove seeds, and mash. Or bake or boil sections and, after the squash is cooked, scrape off the rind and mash the insides (use a masher or rotary colander or push through a sieve). (Using a masher is by far the easiest way.) Then package and freeze. There's no good way to cool it, so just don't put more in the freezer than it can handle each day.

I thaw a bag of frozen squash in a frying pan with a little water, butter, and honey. Mix well and serve hot. Substitute for sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving or at any other time. Around here, squash is much cheaper and easier to grow than sweet potatoes. You can use it in pies or add it to bread dough.

Drying. Pioneer Americans dried pumpkins a lot. Their method was generally to slice the pumpkin around in circles, scrape out the seeds and strings, peel it, and let the circles hang in the air, out of direct sunshine, until they were dried. Another method: Cut into small pieces, seed, peel, cut into 1-inch strips, and cut those lA inch thick. Or shred it. Dry until tough.

<Í> SQUASH/PUMPKIN LEATHER Cook and puree. For each 2 c. puree, add Ai c. honey, 'A t cinnamon, and As t each of nutmeg and cloves. (Other options: Combine with apple puree. For spices, substitute ginger and pumpkin pie spice. Sweeten with white or dark corn syrup rather than honey. For each I c. steamed squash, pumpkin, yam, or sweet potato, add I c. mashed banana, I t. pumpkin pie spice, Ai t. vanilla, and A c. chopped nuts; dry like a fruit leather.) Canning. Wash; remove seeds. Cut into chunks and peel. Cut the peeled chunks into 1-inch cubes. Add just enough water to cover. Boil 2 minutes. Optional: Add salt. Put chunks into clean canning jar. Pour cooking liquid over, leaving 1 inch headspace. Caution: Do not mash or puree before canning. Process pints 55 minutes, quarts 90 minutes, in pressure canner only. If using a weighted-gauge canner, set at 10 lb. pressure at 0-1,000 feet above sea level; set at 15 lb. at higher altitudes. If using a dial-gauge canner, set at 11 lb. pressure at 0-2,000 feet above sea level; 12 lb. at 2,001-4,000 feet; 13 lb. at 4,001-6,000 feet; 14 lb. at 6,001-8,000 feet; or 15 lb. above 8,000 feet. Cooking Squash and Pumpkin: Basically you start any recipe by boiling, baking, or pressure-cooking the flesh. If you then mash, you've got the equivalent of the canned pumpkin that is called for in most recipes. Just substitute from there.

Boiling. Halve the fruit and scoop out the seeds and stringy fibers that are mixed up with them. Peel and cut what's left into cookable-sized pieces. Boil until tender (a half hour or so). To pressure-cook, cook the peeled pieces 15 minutes at 15 lb. pressure.

Baking. Arrange your peeled pieces cut side down in some sort of baking pan. Bake about an hour at 400°F Then scoop out the part that stayed soft and mashable. Another system is in Ruth's Vegan Squash Pie recipe a bit later on. Of that one, Lane Morgan says, "That's how I always prepare my pumpkins for pies, except I scrape out the seeds before I bake because I don't know how good they'd be for roasting after being cooked in all that moisture. You don't have to peel or chunk the pumpkin, and I hate peeling pumpkin. Don't use a rimless baking surface because the pumpkins will 'weep' as they cook. I save that liquid to get the puree going in the blender."

Instant Mashed Squash/Pumpkin. Blend 2 c. cut-up pumpkin with xh c. water until smooth. If you aren't going to use your puree in a recipe where it will get cooked, you can cook it plain in a pan, but you have to stir constantly to prevent burning.

Recipe Ideas. For more recipes suitable for winter squash, see the recipe ideas under "Winter Melon" (in the "Exotic Squashes" section).

<i> SQUASH HALF (OR CHUNK) RAKED IN THE SHELL

This is my family's winter squash favorite. We use acorn squashes. I cut them in half (or into appropriate-sized baking sections) and remove seeds. In the cavity of each squash half

1 sprinkle a little brown sugar and butter. Or some cooked bacon bits and butter. Or maple syrup. Or a honey/mustard mix. Or I mix Ai c. orange juice concentrate, A2 c. honey, salt,

2 T. butter, and As t nutmeg and divide this among the squashes. Or combine pre fried crumbled bacon (about 4 slices), half a small onion (cut up and sauteed), Ai c. brown sugar, a big pinch of ground cloves, and I Ai c. peeled apple sections. In any case, put filled squashes in a loaf pan, sprinkle bacon bits on top, and bake in a loaf pan at about 350 °F until fork-tender. Or stuff with a meat-loaf mix and bake. Or fill with a mixture of chopped apples, raisins, bread crumbs soaked in orange juice, a little honey, cinnamon, and cloves.

Then serve. Since it's hard for any child (or most adults) to eat an entire half of an acorn squash, we carve them up at the table and serve the pieces, trying hard not to lose much of the filling in the process. Then just spoon the squash off the rind into your mouth. Use mashed leftover squash in any baked goods (bread, cookies, cakes, and muffins).

SQUASH STUFFING Mix together 2 c. mashed squash, I egg, I c. each finely chopped onion and celery, I T. chopped parsley, I chopped green pepper, 2 T. melted butter, 'A t. sage, and a dash of thyme.

VEGAN SQUASH PIE From Ruth: Cut I large or 2 medium butternut squashes (you can substitute any other winter-keeper squash) in half lengthwise and bake, cut side down, for an hour (till very soft when forked). Discard seeds. Then scoop out flesh and puree in blender till smooth—add A2 c. maple syrup or honey, IA21. cinnamon, A21. nutmeg, A2 t. ginger, 2 T. tahini (sesame seed butter), and A2 c. rice (or soy milk). Bake in pie shell or glass baking dish at 375 °F for 30 minutes, till slightly browned.

BANANA SQUASH SEEDS The banana squash has very big seeds that taste great when roasted. Pumpkin Recipe Ideas. Check out a copy of The Pumpkin Eater Cook Book by Phyllis E. Strohsahl, or substitute in a squash or sweet potato recipe. Or try one of these . . .

^ PUMPKREAM PIE It was a red-letter day for me indeed when this one came in the mail from Esther Shuttleworth, mother of the famous editor of Mother Earth News (John): Mix together I c. granulated sugar, a pinch of salt I t cinnamon, 'A4 t. cloves, and % t. nutmeg. Beat in 2 eggs. Then add I c. well-cooked-down (cooked-dry) pumpkin. Add I c. thick cream or whipping cream. Bake in an 8-inch pie pan, which will be full, for 20 minutes at 425°F. Then reduce to 375°F and bake until it rises and then makes small cracks around the edge.

That reminds me of another exciting day. I answered the telephone, and it was a lady from California wanting to order a hardcover copy of the book for her grandchildren. The address she gave me was "Marian Anderson ..." I asked, "Are you Marian Anderson, the great singer?" And she said, "Yes!" She had a strong, lovely voice, even just talking over the telephone, and she was a thoroughly enjoyable lady to talk to.

ci> IVY'S PUMPKIN PIE FROM SCRATCH Ivy Isaacson lives here in Kendrick and helped me a lot with mimeographing earlier editions of this book. I got a request in the mail for a pumpkin pie recipe from scratch, and Ivy offered hers. Here it is for everybody: Cut pumpkin in pieces; peel and cook in small amount of water. Drain well, mash, and put through strainer. Line a 9-inch pie pan with plain pastry. Set oven at 450°F. Mix IA2 c. of your cooked and strained pumpkin, A3 c. brown sugar, A3 c. white sugar, I t. cinnamon, A21 ginger, t nutmeg, A21 salt 2 slightly beaten eggs, IA2 c. milk, and A2 c. cream or evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell. Bake 10 minutes; then lower heat to 300°F and bake until firm (about 45 minutes). For spicier filling, add t. cloves.

VEGAN PUMPKIN PIE From Ruth of Bonaire: 'Take 2 c. cooked-down pumpkin, I c. rice cream cereal (cooked and cooled), 2 T. tahini, A2 c. apple juice (or A4 c. juice and A4 c. honey), 2 t each of allspice and fresh grated ginger root, and A41. cloves. Puree all that in a blender until very smooth, and then bake in an ungreased glass baking dish 30 minutes at 375 °F or until set."

Continue reading here: Exotic Squashes

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