Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Squash of all kinds have been around for a long time.

The Native Americans used to call corn (maize), squash and beans “The Three Sisters,” because of the way they helped each other. The corn provided a ‘trellis’ for the beans, the squash shaded the corn and bean roots with its broad leaves, and because the beans are ‘nitrogen-fixers,’ they actually take nitrogen (a natural fertilizer chemical) right out of the air, and pull it into the soil, where other plants—in this case, the squash and the corn—can use it.
They help each others asthree loving sisters do.

This time, we’re talking about Winter Squash. You start the seedlings the same way as usual, unless the weather is past ‘frost time,’ after which you could plant the seeds directly into the garden. I like to start the seeds indoors because birds absolutely love digging up sprouted seedlings. I understand that it’s one of the few ways they can get Vitamin C, so it’s understandable. It’s not as if they can go buy vitamin products.

When we start them indoors, even in clement weather, we have less need for scarecrows and more control over the final spacing of plants. It always bothers me to read instructions that say, “grow five plants and when they’re ‘up’, pinch off the three weakest.”

What kind of nonsense is that? They’re all living things, and each deserves to grow, just as much as the other ones do. Just start them where the birds can’t get at them and space them as you like when they’re ‘Big Kids.’

As far as Winter Squash, there are so many good ways to fix it that it would take a whole chapter in a book to tell you about them. But here are a few ideas for you:

You could use acorn squash the way you used the sweet potatoes in the pork (or beef) roast. Just scrub it, slice it, remove any bruised or discolored parts, and put it around the roast as it cooks. You don’t even need to peel it. God has already marked it into sections where you should cut it.

I generally use it with the sweet potatoes, a lot of thick sections of large carrot, a head or two of roasted garlic (peeled, of course) and big chunks of pre-browned onions. Add a cup or so of red wine and about a half-pound of fresh or canned, rinsed, mushrooms to this mix, and you have a meal. Green peas, about two cups full, don’t hurt, either. This method cries out for hot garlic bread, or hot bread spread with one of those green onion party spreads. It’s a nice way to use up those leftover one-third-of-a-container of party dip. Mmmm….

Spaghetti squash can be boiled whole (Be careful not to overcook it!) and then cut in half, the ‘spaghetti’ (strings of squash) scraped out. Cover it with a good marinara sauce with canned mushroom pieces and black olives in it, and liberally covered with Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese for a satisfying supper.

Spaghetti squash is good, too, with chopped canned clams, some roasted garlic and either a good olive oil sauce, a butter sauce or even an Alfredo sauce. It’s a Godsend for people with gluten problems, because cooked only al dente (which means ‘to the tooth’, or ‘still a bit firm’), spaghetti squash is a fine stand-in for the real thing.

And while you might mistake it for real pasta, spaghetti squash…well, okay, you can tell it’s not real pasta, but still, it tastes terrific, and some people only eat pasta to have something to carry the sugo and Parmesan on it anyway!

As far as the other squashes, like Hubbard and the others, bake them, mash them with butter, a bit of salt and some cinnamon (and maybe just a whisper of nutmeg), and serve hot with ham steaks, roast beef, duck or chicken. You can hardly go wrong.


Cut the squash lengthwise and using a tablespoon, scrape out the seeds and the stringy ‘umbilical cords” onto a plate or paper towel. Don’t try this with summer squash, because they’re usually sold in the supermarket at a small size, and haven’t had time yet to develop viable seeds (seeds that will grow.) But winter squash acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash—actually, spaghetti squash might be a summer squash, but you can save the seeds anyway--and many others will work just fine like this.

When you’ve scraped the ‘innards’ out of the squash, go ahead and bake it while you tend to the seeds. Here’s how to bake it:

Take the two squash halves, lay them face down on a buttered cookie sheet or jellyroll pan (cookie sheets are perfectly flat with a rim only on one side, so you can pick it up easily; jellyroll pans have a 1” lip all round. Use either one, it doesn’t matter) and bake at 350*F—400*F degrees until you can pierce the skin easily with a fork or the tip of a knife.

If you’re going to cook pork with this sort of squash, you can sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar and a few shakes of cinnamon on it before you serve it, either in the shell or once it’s scooped out into a bowl. A couple of pats of butter and a dash of salt won’t hurt, either.

Meanwhile, back to the seeds. Separate them from the ‘strings’ and wash them in a colander or large sieve under cold running water. Not ice cold, just from the cold water tap. Remember, we’re not making “squashcicles.” It’s going to feel squishy and ‘different’, so if you like, have your elementary-school kids do this part—mine loved it!

When the seeds are clean, pour them onto a paper towel and spread them out to dry. Don’t use the microwave or the conventional oven (or any other kind of oven) to speed the process along. Let them air-dry naturally. Shade is great. Sunlight is umm...okay, I guess, but not the best. Microwaves are death.

If you’re planning to plant them, even as part of a container garden--and they’re great in containers!—keep out as many seeds as you want plants, and put them into the same old container-with-the-drain-holes-covered-by-a-coffee-filter-and-filled-with-garden soil and keep it in the sun or under a strong artificial light. Remember that the plants get really big, so factor that into your indoor garden planning. Outside, who cares?

I often make two holes with a church key in the bottom of an 8-ounce Styrofoam coffee cup, line it with a bit of filter large enough to cover the holes, and fill it with good dirt to start large plants like squash, fennel, okra, tomatoes, and the like. Do whatever you want.

You really have to try hard to make a mistake in gardening—or cooking, either, for that matter. Both are just a matter of doing what seems right to you. Be bold! Try it! You can always compost the garden evidence, and eat the kitchen evidence.

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