Wonderful Winter Squash

If you are anything like me, you can’t wait for fall to come.  Cozy sweaters, fire in the wood stove, shorter days…no, wait, I didn’t mean that one!  I have to say, one of my greatest fall pleasures is eating winter squash and baking with pumpkin.  This is while the masses are heading out to get their pumpkin spice lattes, that pumpkin spice lip balm and all of the rest of the limited edition pumpkin spice things.  Let’s get back to the real food and talk about using real winter squash and pumpkin!

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Winter squash and pumpkin belong to the cucurbita genus of plants.  They come in so many shapes, sizes and colors.  Just stroll through your local farm stand and you may see just a few fine specimens from a long list of varieties.  ‘Red Kuri’, ‘Butternut’, ‘Sweet Dumpling’, ‘Blue Hubbard’ and my favorite that I grew up with, ‘Buttercup’!  Ranging in size from a two serving ‘Delicata’ to those huge pumpkins that you can barely fit in your oven!

'Delicata' squash is very sweet!
‘Delicata’ squash is very sweet!

Squash and pumpkins have always been very important crops because of their nutrition and storage qualities.  In the article Celebrate the Three Sisters: Corn, Beans and Squash, the process is described about how the Iroquois tribe planted these three crops together in a highly sustainable inter-planting arrangement.  Valued the world over, they are packed with Vitamins A, B, C, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese according to Epicurious.  Also, they are low in fat and calories (that’s the real winner here!).  And then there is the flavor.  Some of the best winter squash are rich, meaty and oh so sweet in flavor!  I call it fall soul food!

Gnarled pumpkin stem!
Gnarled pumpkin stem!

In autumn, squash are abundant here in Maine.  Because winter squash and pumpkins store well, many of us stock up this time of year.  If you have a cool, dry location that won’t freeze, try storing a few for future use.  Check with some of your local growers, the price seems to go down as winter gets closer.  I have a shelf in my garage where I keep an assortment.  Just be sure to check them regularly and use any that show signs of going bad.  The stem may grow a bit of mold or the flesh can show a few dark spots.

Butternut squash.
Butternut squash.

I really have a hard time growing winter squash, let alone pumpkins.  If I had an open field I might give them more attention but they take up too much real estate for me right now.  Cooking and freezing is an easy option for anyone who has the space.  Canning or pressure canning can be used also.  This is an option if you are not a fan of eating canned food from the store.  I came upon an article One-Pie Canned Pumpkin Pur’ee|History and Recipes.  It featured our iconic Maine canned pumpkin and squash, One-Pie.  Growing up, it seemed that this was the canned pumpkin to buy and I still have a few cans on hand for convenience.  This company started out in Waldoboro, Maine, then moved to West Paris, Maine.  Now, although still distributed from West Paris, says the article, the processing is done in Illinois!  Crazy!

One Pie canned pumpkin.
One Pie canned pumpkin.

Pumpkin and squash are so versatile.  They can at times be used interchangeable in recipes.  Taking on the flavors of the seasoning that you add, the mashed squash can be sweet or savory.  Roasted squash has got to be my favorite fall side dish.  Not to mention the countless ways to serve it.  Just on it’s own with butter and pepper is fine with me!

In my grandmothers 1949 copy of The Wise Encyclopedia of Cooking, right between squab-pigeon and squirrel, is a quirky spread of recipes for squash.  It notes that “Squash soup is an epicure’s delight, and many combinations of squash and other vegetables can be made.”  True indeed!

Roasting Fall root veggies and squash!
Roasting Fall root veggies and squash!

If you have a squash with a dry texture, try steaming chunks of it.  A squash with a lot of moisture can be improved by roasting with a drizzle of olive oil and brown sugar.  Pumpkins and squash can be baked whole or in pieces.  Seeds can be cleaned and roasted with your favorite seasonings for a healthy snack.

All colors, shapes and sizes!
All colors, shapes and sizes!

I would like to share a recipe that I have adapted for a pumpkin soup that is diet friendly and so delicious!  Squash or pumpkin work in this recipe.  Great as a meal with bread and salad or try serving a mug with a sandwich for a filling lunch.  This recipe is easily made vegan.

Skinny Pumpkin Curry Soup

Heat over medium-low heat in a soup pot, 1 Tbsp. olive oil.  Add 1 medium onion, chopped.  Cook till translucent.  Saute 2 cloves of minced garlic for a few minutes but be careful not to burn.

Onions, garlic and spices!
Onions, garlic and spices!

Put 1 tsp. yellow curry powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, pepper to taste and 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes in with the onions and cook for a quick minute.  Pour in 3 cups of chicken or veggie broth and 1 3/4 cups of mashed pumpkin or squash.  Simmer for a good 15 minutes.

Adding the squash or pumpkin.
Adding the squash or pumpkin.

Place soup in the blender with 1 cup of skim milk or almond milk.  Blend until smooth.   That’s it!  Sweet and spicy!

Soup in the blender!
Soup in the blender!

Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and a piece of bread.  I hope that you give this recipe a try.  It’s thick and satisfying!

Grand finale! Pumpkin soup.
Grand finale! Pumpkin soup.

Winter squash and pumpkin can be part of your healthy diet in an endless amount of ways.  Pies, cakes, cookies, bread, side dishes and soups.  You are only limited to your imagination!

Hilary|Everlongardener