Winter Wonder Squash

13 Feb



It’s a new month. The second in this new decade. The month that inspires red and pink hearts and streamers and sweet hidden letters of love.

There will be more of all of that to come, but first, let us pay homage to squash. One of the few bright and colorful foods locally available in these very cold winter days.

Did you know acorn, amber cup, autumn cup, banana, butternut, buttercup, carnival, delicata, fairytale pumpkin, gold nugget, hubbard, kabocha, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, and turban –

are all names of different winter squash?

Originating in Central America in the region between Mexico and Guatemala, squash has been eaten for over 10,000 years. The early versions of squash were prized for their seeds as in those early days they were mostly seeds with very little edible flesh inside.

Lucky for us, squash has evolved over time and has so much more to offer. Winter squashes became known as “good keepers” because they take longer to ripen than their thin-skinned summer squash counterparts, and are harvested in the late Fall when fully mature. Their hard and protective rinds make storing for several months possible, offering sweet, nutritious comfort in the middle of winter.

The hard-shelled winter squash was for the early Americans, considered one of the Three SistersBeans, corn, and squash are the three sisters that compliment each other on the table as well as in the garden. The beans and corn together make a complete protein, and the squash provides beta-carotene, essential omega 3 fats, potassium and other important vitamins and minerals.

In the garden, the tall corn is great for the beans to climb on while providing needed shade for the growing squash plants below. The large leaves and furry vines of the squash plants prevent weeds and keep hungry rodents at bay, and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil that feed the corn and the squash well. Squash was such a cherished part of the Native American diet that it was often buried along with the dead to provide them with nourishment for their journey to the afterworld.

Shopping for winter squash is a delightful experience. There are colors, sizes and shapes to suit everyone. This seasonal bearer of sweetness and color is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and fiber, of beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B’s and iron. Winter squashes have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce the severity of conditions like asthma and arthritis; they neutralize free radicals in the body and help to regulate blood sugar. Got sweet cravings? Eat squash!

Pick a kobucha squash and bake it whole, shred and sauté a buttercup squash, top spaghetti squash “noodles” with tomato sauce, cube and toss a butternut squash into soup, or drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and pumpkin seeds. Puree an acorn squash with maple syrup and cinnamon for a winter treat or with corn and dill for a savory soup.

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