Scrumptious Squash: Feasting on Fall’s Bountiful Gourds

There is a gardeners’ joke that goes something like this: Why do New Englanders lock their cars only in September? To keep them from being filled with zucchini. Like all great comedic lines, this one is rooted in the truth because the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) of vegetables includes some 700 different varieties, of which pumpkins, zucchini, and cucumbers are members. And just one flowering plant from this clan produces many, many fruits.

Pumpkins and squash are vines – trailing or climbing vines. Their large leaves, thick stems, and large yellow flowers sprawl all over the garden (often I find a squash or pumpkin plant thriving on the compost), and if the right conditions exist the gourds can grow to enormous size. Sometimes called pepo, gourds like nutrient-rich soil and lots of heat. If you are keen to save seeds and grow your own squash next year, one of the most extensive books on how to grow and cook squash is The Squash Cookbook (see Resources), which is still available from Amazon.

When I conduct wild herb talks or walks, and dandelion or burdock are the topic of discussion, I always remind people that the best strategy for weed control is to eat them. The same theory applies to squash. If you don’t want to have to look for unlocked cars in order to give away your surplus harvest, eat the flowers. Indeed, squash flowers are delicious when stuffed with cooked rice, vegetables, tofu, or other tasty tidbits and either baked or sautéed.

SQUASH 101

Of the 700 or so varieties of Cucurbita or squash, there are four main species and most species are divided into two main categories: winter and summer squash. Winter squash develops a thick, hard skin and is excellent for storage (keeping up to one year in a cool, dark, dry, ventilated place). Summer squash is harvested and eaten when the skin is thin and tender. Summer squash is not meant for long storage. The four main Cucurbita species are:

C. pepo – usually eaten before they reach full maturity, meaning that most of them are considered summer squash. This variety includes most traditional carving and baking pumpkins, yellow crookneck, yellow straightneck, pattypan, zucchini, spaghetti squash, and acorn. Another great pepo-type winter squash is delicata, a.k.a. sweet potato. One of the sweetest squash – it really does taste like sweet potato – this variety is creamy and thin-skinned, great for roasting or baking.

C. maxima – these gourds grow huge and store well. Their stems are spongy or cork-like. Most winter squash fall into this type. Examples of maxima squash are pink banana, turban, buttercup, and hubbard. Generally, maxima squash have softer flesh.

C. moschato – flesh is orange, sweet, and refined. They store extremely well and are very good in preserves. Examples of moschata squash are cushaw green, cushaw gold, butternut, and sweet dumpling.

C. mixta – flesh is pale yellow or cream in colour and generally not as sweet or refined as moshata or maxima; in fact, the flesh can be stringy or woody. Not many mixta cultivars have great eating qualities, so most of these fruits are used for gourd crafts – they make beautiful birdhouses.

HOW TO PREPARE AND COOK SQUASH

Select heavy squash without any touches of green, bruising, soft spots, or mould. The rind on summer squash should be easily punctured with a fingernail. Winter squash should be hard, clean, and heavy for its size. Most winter squash and pumpkins go well with sweet seasonings such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, anise, fennel, cardamom, raisins, maple syrup, brown sugar, and honey. In casseroles, they combine well with tomatoes, onions, garlic, fennel, apples, and pears. I like to pair some dishes with nuts such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts, and soft cheese such as feta and gorgonzola.

To prepare squash for cooking, scrub in a sink full of cool water to which a drop of food-safe soap has been added. Rinse well, drain and pat dry. Using a large, heavy knife, cut the squash in half. Use a large spoon to scrape out seeds and stringy material. Save seeds for roasting with spices (see recipe below). For steaming or boiling, cut into large chunks and leave the skin on because it is easier to trim away when the flesh is cooked.

To roast squash: prepare squash as directed above and leave whole or cut in half to shorten the cooking time. If whole, puncture the rind in a few places with a metal skewer or the tip of a knife to allow the steam to escape while cooking, and place on a baking sheet. Arrange squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast whole or halves in preheated 350° F oven for 30 to 50 minutes, or until the flesh pierces easily with the point of a sharp knife. Let cool on a cooling rack. Remove peel and cut into wedges or cubes for the recipe.


Pat Crocker is a gourd guru. She loves to swap zucchini recipes and find quirky new recipes for both summer and winter squash. Culinary Herbalist, photographer, writer, lecturer and author of several award-winning books, Pat’s latest book, The Yogurt Bible is now available. Her other books including The Vegan Cook’s Bible, The Vegetarian Cook’s Bible, The Juicing Bible and The Smoothies Bible, are available at bookstores throughout Canada and the United States. Write or e-mail Pat at 536 Mill St., Neustadt, ON, N0G 2M0, pcrocker@riversongherbals.com. Visit https://www.riversongherbals.com or https://www.foodwedsherbs.blogspot.com


RECIPES

This recipe is from The Organic Gourmet, compiled by Tracy Kett (Robert Rose, 1998), published to mark the 10th anniversary of the The Feast of Fields food festival. For more information visit https://www.feastoffields.org. This recipe by Dino Magnatta utilizes the best of the fall harvest and is sure to warm you up on a crisp, cool day.

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz pumpkin
  • 12 oz winter squash (Hubbard or butternut)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 large sweet apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 3 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

1) Bake squash and pumpkin in preheated oven (375°F) for 30 or 40 minutes or until tender.

2) Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions, celery, apple, salt and pepper; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add curry powder, stock and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

3) When baked squash and pumpkin are cool enough to handle, remove seeds; peel and cut the flesh into chunks.

4) In a blender or food processor, purée soup mixture with squash and pumpkin. Return to saucepan; add buttermilk and lemon juice. Adjust seasoning to taste. Heat soup through, but do not boil.


Use hubbard, butternut, or pink banana squash in this recipe, along with a 13-by-9 inch (3 L) baking pan, lightly oiled. (Makes 4 servings.)

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups cooked squash cubes, drained if canned, thawed if frozen
  • 1 cup fresh, frozen, or canned peach slices
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • freshly ground sea salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts

1) Preheat oven to 350°F (180° C)

2) In prepared baking pan, combine squash, peaches, applesauce, maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Grind some salt and pepper over top. Cut butter into small pieces and spread over top, or drizzle olive oil over. Cover with a lid or foil and heat in preheated oven for 30 to 45 minutes. Garnish with toasted pecans, and serve


Kids love spaghetti squash and adults find the low-calorie, gluten-free ‘noodles’ irresistible. If you have never seen a spaghetti squash, the large oval gourd has tender, spaghetti-like strands that form on the inside of the yellow rind. Easy to cook and fun to eat, this is one of my favourite fall recipes. (Makes 4 to 6 servings.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1/3 cup toasted cashew nuts
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder or paste
  • 1 cup soy or rice milk
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets
  • 1 small green zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks
  • 1 small yellow zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks
  • 1 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 Tbsp walnut or olive oil

1) Preheat oven to 350° F.

2) Puncture the rind of the whole squash in a few places with a metal skewer or the tip of a knife. Place on a baking sheet and roast in preheated oven for about an hour or until the flesh is tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. Let cool slightly.

3) Meanwhile, make the cashew sauce. In a blender or food processor, combine cashew nuts, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and curry powder. Process on high and add the soy milk through the opening in the lid until smooth.

4) After the squash is roasted, cook the vegetables. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli and cauliflower and boil for 1 minute. Add the carrot and zucchini matchsticks and the peas and boil for 1 minute or until all of the vegetables are tender crisp. Drain.

5) Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Set seeds aside. Use a fork to scrape out the ‘spaghetti’ strands into a large bowl. Toss with oil and cooked vegetables. Pour the cashew sauce over and toss to combine with the vegetables and squash ‘noodles.’


Served warm, this dessert could take one back to pre-European times in North America, with its use of squash, cornmeal, and maple syrup. Only the spices are the modern giveaway. (Makes 4 – 6 servings.)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups soy or rice milk, divided
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup organic cornmeal*
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked, puréed squash or pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates or raisins
  • 1 Tbsp chopped candied ginger
  • 1 Tbsp butter or applesauce
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

1) Lightly oil a 1-1/2 quart baking or casserole dish. Preheat oven to 325° F.

2) In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of the soy milk and the water. Bring to a light simmer over high heat. Slowly add the cornmeal, stirring constantly. Add salt and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly for 10 minutes or until thick and smooth.

3) Meanwhile, combine egg and remaining soy milk. Set aside.

4) Remove cornmeal from heat and stir in squash, maple syrup, brown sugar, dates, ginger, butter, cinnamon, and egg mixture. Pour into prepared baking dish and bake in preheated oven for 60 to 90 minutes or until thick and bubbly.

5) Editor’s note: Because commercial corn is sprayed with Atrazine, a herbicide that has been linked to cancer and endocrine disruption, we only recommend consumption of organic corn and corn products.


Butternut, acorn, pumpkin, turban, or any of the orange-fleshed winter squash work well in this delicious sweet bread. Use a large saucepan to heat the liquid ingredients because it becomes the mixing bowl for the batter. (Makes 1 loaf.)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup soy or rice milk
  • 3/4 cup honey, rice syrup, or agave nectar
  • 1/3 cup chopped dates
  • 1/3 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter or cold pressed coconut oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup squash or pumpkin purée
  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 3/4 cup buckwheat, whole wheat, or rye flour
  • 1-1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1) Use 1 loaf pan, lightly oiled. Preheat oven to 350° F.

2) In a saucepan, heat soy milk, honey, dates, and cane sugar over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved and dates are very soft. Beat in butter and remove the pan from the heat. Let cool (about 15 minutes).

3) Add egg and squash, beating until smooth. Sift in unbleached flour, beating until combined. Beat in buckwheat flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, and allspice. Stir in walnuts. Scrape into prepared loaf pan and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until a cake tester tests done. Cool bread in the pan for 15 minutes and turn out onto a cooling rack.


The edible seeds of gourds – pumpkin and winter squash – hold nutrients and even some medicinal components, so they should be saved. Wash under cool running water, drain, and pat dry. Follow directions below for toasting the seeds. You can use sweet or savoury spices. Use the toasted seeds as a snack, as part of granola, or chopped as a topping for casseroles and other main dishes. (Makes 3 cups.)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups raw squash or pumpkin seeds
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp organic cane sugar
  • 1 Tbsp garam masala spice blend
  • Use 1 rimmed baking sheet, lightly oiled. Preheat oven to 400° F.

1) In a bowl, toss together squash seeds, olive oil, cane sugar, and garam masala. Spread evenly, in one layer on prepared baking sheet. Roast in preheated oven, stirring once or twice for about 20 minutes, until crisp and puffy. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


References

• Young Tarr, Yvonne. The Squash Cookbook. Random House; Toronto, 1995.
• Schrambling, Regina. Squash: A Country Garden Cookbook. Collins Publishers San Francisco, 1994.

To learn more about pumpkins, squash and zucchini, visit Jack Creek Farms (California) at www.allaboutpumpkins.com.

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