Celebrating Squash

By Jack Elliott
Rainy River Correspondent

In my humble opinion all squash are pumpkins, but not all pumpkins are squash. They are members of the genus Cucurbita. And whereas Pumpkins are yellow-orange globes that are best used as jack-o-lanterns turning to rotten mush and stumbling obstacles on the doorstep every November, squash are delicious veggies that can be baked or turned into scrumptious desserts.

I like growing squash. They are easy to cultivate and once started they will run over pretty much everything else in the garden and provide you with an abundant harvest with a minimum of effort. There are a host of different squash varieties but my two favourites are butternut and buttercup. You grow them from seeds and although you can save the seeds from one harvest for planting the next year, a word of caution – squash and pumpkins can cross breed and I have had some saved squash seeds produce beautiful looking offspring that tasted like pumpkin i.e. bleah!

Butternut is a pear-shaped, yellow skinned variety that has a thick fleshy neck with a seed hollow in the flower end. It is easy to grow, fairly vigorous and keeps reasonably well. It is easy to scoop the flesh out of after it is cooked.

Buttercup is a dark green round or oval fruit often with a ‘nose’ or ‘cup’ on the flower end. The seed hollow is larger than butternut and skin is rougher or bumpy making it a bit tougher to scoop out the flesh. It does not yield quite as much flesh per pound but is a prolific yielder.

Squash should be harvested by cutting the vine not breaking the stem as the stem is fleshy (pumpkin is hard) and will provide an entrance for deterioration and reduce storage time. I find when these two squash are ready in late summer early fall you can leave them in the garden until after a killing frost with little worry, but a wet fall seems to make them deteriorate more quickly.

Storing squash in the garage of basement provides you with lots of exercise. First carrying them in and second carrying the rotten carcasses out because you did not get around to using them. To cut down on that leave them in the garage and process them up by early winter.

Buttercup and butternut squash are vastly superior in flavour to pumpkin, and can be used in pies, casseroles and delicious sides. – Jack Elliott photo

Squash baked up are delicious. Cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and bake them skin side up in a Pyrex casserole dish for an hour or so until they are tender, Ten minutes before serving, turn them over, smear some butter on the flesh, sprinkle on a bit of brown sugar and continue baking, then cut into portions and serve them up. Everyone can scoop out and fix their portion to their own liking. Ambrosia!

Now to that other stack in the garage. These can be processed even easier. Wash any mud of the gourds, place on a cookie sheet in the oven and bake at 325-350 for 1 to 1.5 hr until you can pierce easily with a fork and then turn off the heat and let cool a couple of hours. Remove the squash from the oven, cut in half and with a spoon or ice cream scoop, clean out the seed cavity. Then again with a spoon or scoop take out the flesh and place in a large pot. This is where you will see that butternut will be easier to scoop out of its smooth skin than butter cup will be to remove from its bumpy skin. But both processes will be easy compared to peeling and cutting raw squash. Some say pierce the squash with a meat fork to prevent pressure build up exploding the squash. I’ve never had this happen…so far!

The squash flesh in the pan should now be mashed like potatoes and stored in that stack of old plastic margarine containers you have been hoarding. Two medium squash will yield about three containers of squash. I’ve found a 2 lb/900 gm Becel container will hold enough squash to make a large deep dish pumpkin pie. That’s right PUMPKIN pie! It has tons more flavour and is better for you than mushy old pumpkins. Did you know pumpkin pies are healthy? Low in calories, high in fiber and vitamins. Win…win! The containers of squash can be stored in the fridge for a few days or frozen for future use.

There are a host of other recipes you can make including squash casseroles laced with pecans. Now ladies there is no reason you should take on the whole task by yourself. Hubby has been sitting in the coffee shop most of the morning, so after breakfast pop a couple of squash in the oven and when he comes in for lunch, feed him and then point him towards the work station where he can gut and scoop the gourds. Explain it should be more satisfying than gutting a deer or filleting fish.

My late wife Norma, the Pearl of the Orient had me process squash every fall. Invite me over for supper and I just might bring along a squash/pumpkin pie. What did you say we were having for dinner?