Try cooking with squash and turnips. You can make delicious meals like this Japanese simmered kabocha squash. Photo by Bill St. John
The summer pantry isn’t the winter pantry, is it? Oh, I suppose with refrigeration (or other preserving vehicles or methods), fresh or formerly fresh foodstuffs avail themselves all year round.
Also, that is, if you do not mind tomatoes from Chile with frequent flyer miles or dining out of your freezer.
But now might be the time of year to turn to, say, health-giving vegetables that themselves make the passage from summer through winter nearly unscathed. Solid winter squashes and many root vegetables are such.
Cooking with the winter squash
The winter squash is such a metaphor for life. Crack through its carapace-like shell and it’s little more than raw, bitter flesh, stringy and seed-laden. You’re a tough nut to crack, Acorn. Not much buttery there on first opening, Buttercup.
Sure — and also like life, right? — a fair amount of work and time, maybe a little bit of sugar (and some sweet butter) and winter squash comes around to be more than tolerable, truly, unctuously delicious.
Take pride to know that the winter squash is thoroughly American—North, South and Central. Its name comes from the Narragansett “askutasquash” (“eaten raw,” though referring only to the immature fruit). Plant archeologists have determined that farming it dates back 5,000 years to the region we call Illinois; 10,000 to that of Florida; and 15,000 years to Meso- and South America.
Shells of winter squash were containers, scoops, “dishware.” Its saponaceous-rich flesh sometimes washed clothing. Everyone snacked on its seeds.
What we call “summer” squash—a thin-skinned, moist-fleshed squash such as Crookneck or Pattypan — was grown here in Colorado and the American Southwest millennia ago. It was central to the “holy trinity” (or “Three Sisters”) of squash, beans and corn, a nutritionally complete diet that sustained and grew the indigenous populations of all the Americas.
Botanically, winter squash comes under the genus Cucurbita (hence, “cucumber,” along with all watermelon-like fruits, also a type of squash), and breaks off into two main “families,” Cucurbita pepo and Cucurbita maxima.
The “pepo” varieties, by and large, sport soft, edible skin. Our word “pumpkin” derives from “pepo” by way of old French and old English (“pompon” and “pompion,” respectively) and goes all the way back to ancient Greek, “pepon,” meaning “large gourd.”
Cucurbita maxima is hard-shelled, way so. They are so many and with many fanciful names such as Delicata (“Yo, over here, my skin isn’t that hard.”), Spaghetti (“Wanna see a sweet trick?”) and Hubbard, its name onomatopoetic for the thud (and unsightliness) of this largest of the Cucurbita maxima.
How to (safely) ninja a winter squash
Yep, that winter squash can be a hard nut to crack, so …….