This is the time to be thankful for those vines that trailed through the tidy beds of vegetables and seemed to grow a foot a day, wandering in all directions. The winter squash that grew on those unruly vines is a true winter treasure.
Squash was a favorite of Indian tribes; in fact, the English word derives from askutasquash, translated as "a green thing eaten raw" in the Narragansett language, and was documented by Roger Williams in 1643.
Either those Indian tribes had stronger teeth than modern Americans, or they were referring to summer squash. Winter squash is known for its hardness, and requires a sharp knife and, if possible, a microwave oven to penetrate its defenses.
Many shapes and colors can be found in farm stands and supermarkets, and I have a hard time keeping the names straight. In spite of the differences between varieties, I find their flavors similar, and all delicious.
I know, a few weeks ago I was writing about my dislike of pumpkins, which are botanically similar to summer and winter squash as members of the genus cucurbita, but that's just me.
I like to have acorn and butternut squash on hand all winter. They keep for several months in a cool, dark and well-ventilated space on a thick pad of newspapers.
Some of the other varieties are fun to experiment with in the kitchen, and it is hard to resist them on the shelves.
Carnival squash comes in many colors and designs - cream with orange spots, pale green with darker spots and/or dark green stripes, with bright yellow flesh.
Turbans also come in bright colors and have the distinctive turban- like shape. The skin is hard, and these beauties are a challenge to peel. If you have the ambition and strength to hollow out one with that wonderful red, orange and green coloring, it would make a great bowl for serving soup.
Delicata is softer, and the skin can be eaten, if that is really what you want to do.
Hubbards look rather intimidating, maybe better suited to Cinderella's coach with their grey-green warty skin and large size, but once you deal with that tough skin and the multitude of large seeds, their meat is delicious.
And then there's the spaghetti squash, a wonderful way to sneak a vegetable into a reluctant child's diet. Cooked like other types, the flesh will come out of the shell in strands that truly do look like spaghetti, and take well to any kind of spaghetti sauce, as well as regular butter, salt and pepper.
There are many ways to cook any squash.
I like to start with a spell in the microwave, which makes it easier to tackle that hard skin. And a sharp knife is essential. After cooking partially or completely, cut off the top and bottom, and then cut it into halves to access the seeds and scoop them out.
To me, hands are the best tools for this job, especially with longer fingernails!
Then there are many recipes to choose from. The hollow left from seed removal cries out for butter to me, or a stuffing of onion with sausage and diced bread is delicious.
Or you can remove the skin and quarter, dice, slice or cube your now anonymous squash, and follow a recipe. Once it is cooked and mashed, it can be used in soup, stew, main dishes, vegetable casseroles, even in bread, custard or pie.
So next summer, when those viny stems come creeping out of the compost pile, or under the fence from the neighbor, give them some space to grow as the other crops are harvested, and wait and see what grows.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.
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