Globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. Typically, more than half the fresh fruits and one third of the vegetables in our supermarkets are imported from other countries. But anyone with taste buds knows that just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it tastes good.
We are incredibly lucky to be living in one of the most fertile valleys in the Northeast. The soil in the Rondout Valley is called unadilla silt loam. It is a mineral rich, glacially deposited topsoil ideal for growing fruits, vegetables, and grains. Our region’s farms produce a wide variety of seasonal crops which are bursting with flavor and personality. Here is our Autumnal locavore’s dilemma.
We have so many varieties to choose from: butternut or hubbard? Or should we try kabocha, acorn, buttercup, golden nugget, delicata, pink banana, neck pumpkin, turk’s cap, Long Island cheese, cushaw, cocozelle, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, or one of the many other squash and pumpkin varieties—which are technically in the same family “cucurbitaceae”—in various colors, shapes, and sizes.
The name “squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American Indian word “askutasquash”. Originally believed to have been from Central America or Mexico, humans have used their hard shells as containers for utensils and have eaten the flesh, flowers, and young shoots raw or cooked for almost 10,000 years. Learning from the Native Americans, European settlers adopted squash as a staple in North America. They baked the squash and then cut and mixed it with animal fat, maple syrup, or honey.
Saving Seeds and Pollination
The reason we have so many varieties is because people learned to save seeds from squash with the unique qualities they preferred. Many different varieties developed all over the world. Squash are pollinated by insects, so in order to avoid unwanted hybrids, you must make sure that the plant was pollinated by another member of the same variety. The first generation of fruit gets its characteristics from the mother plant, so you will indeed enjoy the delicata you had planted. But say your delicata squash was pollinated by a sugar pie pumpkin, the genes within the seeds will be altered, and the following year, when you grow that seed, you will get a pumpcata, or is it a delikin? You need at least a quarter mile between squash varieties to avoid Frankensquash (unless you like that sort of experiment, who knows? You may come up with a fabulous cross that you can name after yourself…. Pink Jenana d’Etampes perhaps?).
Did you know the seeds of all squash and pumpkins are edible? The seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, zinc, and potassium, as well as iron, protein, and fiber. So don’t compost them with the stringy guts. Here is what to do with them.
2 cups raw, rinsed, and dried squash or pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
After cutting open the squash, scoop out the “guts”. Pick the seeds out of the stringy fiber and toss them into a colander. Rinse under cold water, then pat dry with a tea towel. Spread the seeds into a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Mix it around until all the seeds are coated. Place into a preheated 350-degree oven and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally until they are lightly golden. Allow to cool before snacking. Pumpkin seeds are best soon after roasting.
Curried Coconut Squash Soup
1 medium kabocha squash (about 3 lbs)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 1/4 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 can coconut milk
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock
2 tsp salt (more or less according to taste)
Hopefully the squash you just harvested the seeds from is a kabocha because curried, coconut squash soup is on the menu tonight and the kabocha, with its thick, solid, waxy, orange flesh is ideal for soup. Take the two sides of your squash, rub with olive oil and place on a baking tray inside a preheated 400-degree oven for 45 minutes (or until completely soft).
Saute the onions, celery, and garlic in olive oil in a heavy bottom, 8-quart soup kettle until golden brown. Sprinkle the spices into the kettle and saute until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Slowly add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
Once the squash is soft, place the roasted flesh into the pot with the vegetables (I leave the skin on the squash for added vitamins & fiber, but you can remove it if you prefer). Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and partially cover for 8-10 minutes.
Turn the heat off, and add the coconut milk. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve with chopped cilantro & a squeeze of lime juice.
Maple Cinnamon Roasted Neck Pumpkin*
8 cups cubed neck pumpkin (*butternut squash can be used as replacement if you can’t locate this graceful giant at your local farmers market. This squash is ideal because it is tender and juicy, yet holds its shape), about 3 lbs of peeled cubes
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 pinches cayenne
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Line 2 baking trays with aluminum foil (or use a silpat silicone liner so when the sugars caramelize it won’t be too hard to clean). Spread out the cubes evenly on the trays.
Drizzle the squash with 1 Tbsp olive oil and maple syrup per sheet.
Sprinkle each sheet evenly with 1/4 tsp cinnamon, salt & pinch of cayenne
Toss the squash on the sheets with clean hands to coat evenly
Place the pans in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway and cooking until all the squash is tender. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and turn on the broiler. Take turns placing each sheet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to caramelize (be careful it does not burn! The sugars cause it to brown very fast).
This dish is delicious served warm or cold—as a side, or tossed onto a bed of raw spinach and dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice.
No matter what you call it—squash or pumpkin—our valley is flush with these disparate cucurbits this month. Whether you carve a jack-o-lantern or create a delicious meal, get out there and support our local farmers by purchasing from your local farmstand.