Sow Good Seeds: The Trusty Winter Squash

(Deborah Haak-Frost|Watershed Voice)

Sow Good Seeds is a column devoted to environmental issues, gardening, cooking, and anything else connected to the natural world that has so graciously hosted us on this earth. My hope is that it will encourage you to see the world around you in a different way, to make incremental changes in your daily living, and to treat our planetary home such that we honor the generations of life that will follow.

It’s that time of year when the seed catalogs have arrived, and gardeners everywhere anticipate the little envelopes rattling with precious cargo. We’re all looking forward to watching those tomato seeds turn into juicy, round globes on the vine. But alas, it’s also that time of year when the stockpile of canned and frozen goods from the summer begins to dwindle, and fresh produce at the grocery store looks rather tired after its long journey from afar.

What’s a cook to do? Turn to the squash.

I have a veritable gaggle of winter squashes amassing in my kitchen, all waiting patiently to fill roasting pans and crockpots for the long cold season. Their soft-skinned, warm-weather cousins have disappeared, but these hard-shelled, firm-fleshed troopers stick around.

One of my favorite qualities of the humble squash is its ability to keep for weeks and months at a time, like a houseplant that thrives under neglect. Long after fresh tomatoes are a distant memory, and months before a shovel again touches soil, the squashes stand by. They don’t need pampering, preferring the dark, chilly environs of the basement or mudroom.

Another selling point is the beautiful variety of squashes, grown in a rainbow of colors with fascinating shapes, sizes, and textures. Pumpkin, butternut squash, and acorn squash enjoy wide recognition, but have you ever seen a turban squash, which looks like two striped blobs fused together? Have you experienced the noodle-like strands of the spaghetti squash? (And though it’s not a winter squash, I have to mention the utter absurdity of the UFO-shaped pattypan squash as well).

For as many varieties of squash, there are as many uses. Winter squash is amenable to a range of cooking methods:

  • Peel and de-seed the squash, chop, and roast for a side dish, or add to salads and pasta. (Be careful when cutting through the tough skin).
  • Roast the squash whole, let cool, then remove the seeds before pureeing. Serve in place of mashed potatoes, or freeze for future use. I add squash puree to soups, sauces, and even baked goods – the flavors meld beautifully with both sweet and savory palates!
  • Even easier than roasting in the oven: stick the whole squash in the slow cooker, cook on low overnight, and voila. This works wonderfully with butternut squash.
  • Hollow out the middle of a squash and stuff with filling, like you would a stuffed pepper. Acorn squashes are perfect for single servings, but try it with others, too!
  • Throw on a jacket and fire up the grill: slice squash into slabs and grill for a nice side to your burgers or steaks.
  • Even the seeds can be eaten! Rinse off the pulp and strings, dry seeds thoroughly, and toss with olive oil and spices of your choosing. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast until fragrant and crispy.

However they show up on your table, winter squash will surely fill you up and carry you through the grey days. Here’s to those trusty companions.

Deborah Haak-Frost is grateful for every ray of sunshine that reaches her skin. She is the Caretaker for Community Engagement at GilChrist Retreat Center in Three Rivers, and volunteers with *culture is not optional, a Three Rivers-based community development organization.