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Thursday, 07 September 2017 11:32

Squash time: Prep gourds for freezing now

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Squash come in many shapes and colors, but the winter squash all can be used in similar ways. Squash come in many shapes and colors, but the winter squash all can be used in similar ways. CSI File photo

Winter squash yields some of my favorite vegetables, and there are so many varieties I can’t believe they all belong in the same family, from acorn to turban and butternut to pumpkin.

   That’s right, pumpkin is a type of squash, and I include it here as an example of what you can do with winter squash — everyone knows you can bake with pumpkin, but you can use any type of orange winter squash and come up with the same results.   

Squash, in botanical terms, is the fruit of a member of the gourd family. In culinary terms, we identify squash as a vegetable because that’s generally how we use it. In cooking, we tend to group the various types of squash into summer or winter.

 

Summer squash is picked young, when the skin is tender and edible. Zucchini, yellow squash, pattypan and Green Tint Benning are examples of summer squash.

Winter squash is picked after it matures on the vine and the skin is thick, hard and inedible — for humans anyway. Winter squash, with its bright orange to golden flesh, is high in iron, vitamin A and riboflavin and is a source of complex carbohydrates.

My personal favorite is the hubbard squash, named after Elizabeth Hubbard of Massachusetts for some reason. Native Americans have cultivated squash for a long time, so she must have picked it up from one of them. Now this squash means business; it grows to huge sizes and one squash has been known to feed up to 50 people.

I also like this squash because it has a dry, deeply colored flesh that stands up well to additions. I like to cook one of these monsters and then mash the squash well and freeze it in packages. I use this whenever a recipe calls for prepared pumpkin, such as cookies, bread or even pie.

Squash is a wonderful vegetable with any roasted meats. My favorite probably would be a pork roast with apples and squash. And it is a natural with some of the native game birds,  such as pheasant, duck and goose. 

For those who garden, squash is definitely a cheap food. The entire reason for having a root cellar is squash because most winter squashes keep so well.

But if you are not a gardener, all you need to do is make a trip to a farm stand. You can buy bushels of squash right now at terrific prices. And save some money on fall decorations — just use a gathering of pumpkins and squash for your decor. 

Prepared squash

           

You all know what canned pumpkin looks like, right? This is how you make that at home, for less than half the cost. Use any of the winter squashes or a combination if you are up to making a big batch. You can substitute prepared squash for any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin.

Once I’ve prepared the squash, I like to freeze it in quart-size zip-close bags. They are cheap and keep the food quite nicely. I measure out one or two cups — be consistent and you won’t have to measure it when you make a recipe — and spoon it into the bag. Squeeze out the extra air as you close the bag. Pat the bag down flat and freeze in piles.            

Depending on which squash you use, you may need to cut it in half. Place the squash cut side down on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 F oven for a half hour or more.

Hubbards can be baked for over an hour. Test it by inserting a fork through the rind. If it goes in easy, you’re ready to remove it from the oven. Let it cool a bit before handling. Scoop the seeds out and roast them for snacks.

If you cooked the squash enough, you will be able to use a spoon to scoop out the flesh quite easily. Like a perfectly ripe avocado, all you’ll have left is the rind. 

Is the pulp soft like mashed potatoes? If it is, all you need to do now is either mash it or puree it in a Cuisinart or food processor to the consistency of thick pudding. Think back to that last can of pumpkin you opened because that’s exactly the right texture. Depending on your type of squash you may need to add some water to it.

If the squash is not quite that soft, don’t fret. Just get out a heavy stockpot and put the squash in there with about an inch of water on the bottom. Cover and heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer until all is soft, then mash with a potato masher. Too much liquid now? Just keep cooking until it’s the right consistency.

You may want to add salt and nutmeg to the squash, although I tend not to add anything because I make a lot of different dishes with it. Remember, though, that canned pumpkin usually contains salt, so if you are adapting a recipe you may want to add a bit more salt to compensate.

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