Friday, October 14, 2011

Harvest Ingredient 13: Winter Squash

Technically speaking "winter squash" and "pumpkin" are in the same category, with pumpkins just being a very special type of winter squash.  The actual word "squash" comes from the native Algonquin (Wampanoag & Narragansett) word askutasquash, which has been translated variously as "good things to eat," or "good to eat green"--which has been exclusively applied to "summer squash" in modern times.  There are so many varieties of hard squashes in the Americas that, and they have such a large geographical distribution that it's easy to see why they would come to be known by names basically meaning "Good Food!."

Butternut Squash

While, strictly speaking, these mature squashes are not good to eat raw.  But they are keep so much better than summer squash, and have many more application as well, that they were so much more common in native diets from the northern Atlantic to the Key of Florida, from farming communities on the plains and in the mid-west, to the desert southwest.  Mexico and points southward had dozens of varieties of gourd and hard "squash."  Not only do they keep well, and over-winter in cool storage without any prep-work, they also serve has material for bowls, dips and other kitchen utelsins.  The flesh, too has more applications, and when the "skin" is needed for tableware, or other utilitarian use, the flesh can easily be dried for future use.  

This is a West Indian Pumpkin, or Calabaza, native to the Caribbean.  It's taste is unique

Commonly used and sold varieties include: Acorn, Butternut, Buttercup, Hubbard, Turban, Delicata, Spaghetti, and Gem.  Besides the acorn, butternut and Hubbard, common use of other native varieties show up in regional native American dishes; the include:  Banana, Cushaw, Winter Crookneck, Long Island Cheese, Atlantic Giant & Calabaza.  The Arikara squash is an heirloom type traced back to the Plains tribe of the same name.  As is is close relative, the Lakota squash.  Both of them belong to the same family as the commonly sold blue hubbard squash; it is an important and wide spread group in the Americas, some varieties of which are native to Canada, others to places as far away as Argentina.
A Lakota Squash

Nutritionally speaking, they all tend to be excellent sources of Vitamin A and a pretty good source of Vitamin C.  They are also sources of manganese, potassium, folate, thiamine (B1), B6, tyrptophan, copper, niacin (B3) and the important, but often overlooked pantothenic acid (B5).  They are also a source of iron and beta carotene, a very high in Omega-3 fatty acids.  In other words, they are pretty darn good for ya!  They are also low in calories and high in fiber.

The Seminole Pumpkin Squash

Traditional methods of preparing them are varied.  Obviously there is baking and roasting, mashed and turned into soups.  They are stuffed, chunked and turned into side dishes, served cold with sweet sauce or relishes, like cranberry sauce.  The Seminoles flavor frybread with the squash shown above.  On holidays, they are put into casserole, pies and cornbread.  Small ones are roasted and serve as soup bowls.  Skilleted, the make up one of the hearty "sister" in three sisters combinations, that is:  Corn, Bean & Squash.  When dried, they boiled to reconstitute or thrown into winter hearty stews.  They make a great addition to a cold weather chowder and seasonal stuffings for fowl.  Their seeds are NEVER thrown away.  Save some for planting if you have room, the other can be roasted or dried to eat or save for dishes later.  They are easily spiced up or covered in maple and allowed to candy.  They are great in home made trail mixes.  In some parts of South America, the flesh and the seeds are added to the native quinoa.  In parts of Mexico the you shoots and leaves are eaten, and so are the male blossoms, which are fried, stuffed, put into soup or turned into pudding.  In the southwest they are eaten with fresh tortillas and jalapenos with homemade salsa.

They can also be muled into unusual salads, tossed into pasta dishes, cooked in risotto, stuffed into ravioli  In north Africa they are put into Tagines and tossed with couscous, in Japan the dried native squashes are rolled into sushi, rustic Chinese farms serve them on their own hot from the wok, in India they are curried and added to lentil dishes, here in the southern US, we fry them (of course!), in Italy they adorn crostini and are made into baby food, put into vegetarian Chili. Even in some Pueblos in New Mexico, a treat is Blue Corn Ravioli with Pumpkin Filling!  There is even a recipe for Winter Squash Lasagna and Winter Squash Pizza w/ Pancetta.  They are great in sweets, and make really good cookies, cakes and flans.  The list is almost endless.  Needless to say anything you can do with pumpkin you can do with any winter squash and vice versa.
Australian Blue Winter Squash
Special mention should be made about the art of Squash/Pumpkin/Gourd carving.  While it exists everywhere in the world that these vegetables are grown, some groups in the Americas have elevated it to a seriously high art.  Such is the case with the Mixtec of Oaxaca.  Below is a video on the subject


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