Every so often I have to put in my plug for winter squash, which was a staple of our grandparents' diet but has all but faded into obscurity today.
Earlier generations that fed themselves from home gardens appreciated the different varieties of winter squash because they kept for months without requiring preservation or refrigeration. Squash is also a good source of vitamins.
In cooking, winter varieties which include acorn, butternut, chayote, Hubbard, turban and spaghetti squash are versatile, and can be used as the base for soup, as a side-dish vegetable or as an ingredient in baked dessert.
I suspect that winter squash is no longer a popular vegetable because few of us still grow our own vegetables and instead rely during much of the year on packaged vegetables from the grocery store.
Because winter squash doesn't freeze well and its pulp never caught on as pie filling, the Green Giant and his cohort essentially have marketed it out of our diet.
This isn't some sort of conspiracy theory that I'm working off of. I don't think that processed-vegetable tycoons made a conscious decision to shoot winter squash off the culinary radar screen. This is just one of those cultural changes triggered by the marketplace. I'm sure the Green Giant would have been just as happy to make his buck off frozen acorn squash as peas or corn.
Squash has an important history that sets it apart from other vegetables. It's native to the North American continent and reportedly was one of the first foods that indigenous people shared with Europeans. The name squash is shorthand for the Narragansett word askutasquash and the Iroquois isquoutersquash. Evidence of squash and gourds dating to 3000 B.C. has been found by archeologists. In short, squash appears to be one food that is truly home-grown and not imported from abroad.
To my way of thinking, one of winter squash's finest attributes is its mild yet rich flavor, which works so well as a backdrop for spices and other seasonings. What follows is a seasonal recipe that capitalizes on winter squash's value as a complementary flavor to spices. The recipe is from "Gardener's Community Cookbook" by Victoria Wise.
Apple-Flavored Winter Squash Cake
Butter and flour for the pan
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups cooked and mashed winter squash, such as butternut or acorn
1/2 cup apple cider
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup Apple Cider Glaze (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9- to 10-inch tube or Bundt pan.
In a large bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Slowly beat in sugar until mixed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add squash and apple cider and beat until well-mixed.
Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Add to creamed mixture in three batches, beating well after each addition.
Pour into pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Remove and cool for 10 minutes, then turn cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Prepare Apple Cider Glaze.
Drizzle glaze over cake and let set to firm.
Makes 10 to 12 servings
Apple Cider Glaze
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup apple cider
Sift sugar into a small bowl. Add cider and whisk until smooth. Use right away, while still pourable and not yet crystallized.
When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University.