Today I was marveling at both the tenacity and import of squash—the fruit that is. Squash are members of the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes many plants that we use or eat every day: loofahs, gourds, pumpkins, squash, cukes, zucchini and melons.
I recently pulled the wilting zucchini vines out of my garden and noticed numerous small, firm green fruits still clinging to the flaccid stems, hanging on for dear life. These zucchini are serious, I thought and took them inside for dinner. Now, hard-fleshed winter squash are prolific. Once again I find myself complaining about all of the squash that I have to process, but in reality I am thankful. From one fruit, I can make dinner; stuffed squash, two loaves of sweet bread, a pie or a huge batch of soup.
Many cucurbits, such as gourds and watermelon, are thought to have originated in Africa and Asia, but pumpkins and squash are native to the Americas and were a vital source of food for indigenous people (think of the three sisters—corns, beans and squash). Though squash still make it to the table, pumpkins seem to claim their fame as Halloween decorations. We take a knife to the fruit, casting aside the seeds, then carve twisted smiles and odd-shaped eyes before displaying them our porches.
Barbara Kingsolver writes passionately, and with a tinge of sarcastic humor, about the demise of eating these native fruits. In her recent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she writes, “Doesn’t anybody remember how to take a big old knife, whack open a pumpkin, scrape out the seeds, and bake it? We can carve a face onto it, but can’t draw and quarter it? Are we not a nation known worldwide for our cultural zest for blowing up flesh, on movie and video screens and/or armed conflict? Are we in actual fact too squeamish to stab a large knife into a pumpkin? Wait till our enemies find out.” She goes on to note that while many people tout local foods, “Here [is] an actual, healthy, native North American vegetable, non shrink-wrapped, locally grown and in season, sitting … on everybody’s porch.”
I think it’s time to move the pumpkin from a holiday lawn ornament to our kitchens.
And to move squash from the wings to the main stage. How? By casting it alongside other bright stars, such as ginger, coconut milk, turmeric and curry powder. This fall my award-winning production is a curried squash soup with coconut milk. You can use any firm, orange-fleshed squash such as acorn, butternut, pumpkin or kabocha, or substitute a combination of carrots and sweet potato. Enjoy the show!
RECIPE: Curried Squash Soup with Coconut Cream
1 medium leek, green leaves removed, sliced
1 tsp mustard seeds, curry powder (more depending on your heat liking)
2 tsp turmeric, grated fresh ginger
4 cups cubed orange squash** (about 2 acorn squash or 1 medium butternut) (or sub 5 large carrots and 1 large sweet potato)
about 6 cups vegetable stock
7 oz. coconut milk (not sweetened)
Heat oil in stock pot.
Sautee leeks in oil until softened
Push leeks aside, add a bit more oil and add all spices, stirring one minute. Don’t let them burn!
Add in squash pieces and stock to cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until squash (or whatever vegetable) is soft.
Using an immersion blender, puree soup. Add coconut milk and salt to taste.
**you can roast them first in their skin, then scoop out softened flesh.