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Doreen Howard
one of the nation's leading experts in heirloom vegetables, herbs, and fruits.

Apple orchards, farmer’s markets, and specialty groceries are jammed with heirlooms of the season; squash and pumpkins our ancestors ate centuries ago. Waltham’s butternut, blue Hubbard squashes, and small sugar pumpkins for pie, plus Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, Rouge Vif d’Etampes are everywhere. Not only are they packed with flavor, but also they have histories richer than some nations.

For their first Thanksgiving feast, the Pilgrims really did eat pumpkin pie. Cooks hollowed out small pumpkins, filled them with sliced apples, sugar, spices and milk. After placing the stem cap back on the pumpkin, it was buried in hot ashes of the cooking fire and baked until tender.

It’s difficult to differentiate pumpkins from winter squash, botanically and from appearance. Throughout the centuries, both were referred to as squash if smaller and pumpkin if large. Many referred to both as squash. The name came from the Narragansett Indians who greeted the first colonists. Squash or “askutasquash” in their language means “eaten raw or uncooked.” 

Squash is one of the oldest known crops of the New World, over 10,000 years by some estimates of sites in Mexico. Explorers like De Soto and Coronado saw “melons” (probably squash) in the Americas and wrote about them. Native American Indians in what is now the Northeastern United States grew pumpkins, but they didn’t catch on with Europeans until the 1800’s. When you eat an heirloom pumpkin like Long Island Cheese, you’re perpetuating American history that dates back more than 5,000 years, and you are enjoying flavor you won’t get at the grocery store.

Easy Squash Recipes

Pumpkin seeds are a nutritious snack. Clean, and then roast with a teaspoon of canola oil at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour, stirring often. Salt to taste. Subtly sweet and nutty with a chewy texture, the roasted seeds are one of the most nutritious and flavorful seeds around. The healing properties of pumpkin seeds for arthritis, prostate health, and cholesterol lowering are demonstrated in recent scientific studies.

For a nutritious dinner kids will love, scoop out the seeds and membrane of a medium-sized pumpkin. Preheat oven to 350º F. Add 1 pound of ground turkey, 2 cups of cooked brown rice or white quinoa, one can cream of chicken soup and diced bell peppers and onions. Put the “lid” on the filled pumpkin and bake for 1-1/2 hours at 350º F. Include the pumpkin flesh when you scoop out portions.

Cut a large Waltham butternut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds and membrane. Fill resulting cavities with a tablespoon each of butter and dark brown sugar or maple sugar. Add a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger to each half. Roast 30 minutes at 350º F. or until flesh is soft when pricked with a fork. Mash seasonings into flesh, and serve immediately.

Doreen G. Howard is a nationally acclaimed magazine editor, author, and photographer who specializes in heirlooms in the garden and kitchen. In over two decades of gardening, Howard has grown more than 300 varieties of vegetables and dozens of fruit cultivars. Her one-acre garden on a glacier moraine in Roscoe, IL, is packed with heirloom apples, berries, luscious heirloom vegetables, and unusual edibles.

Look for more about Doreen Howard’s just-released book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday’s Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs for Today’s Cook (Cool Springs Press, September 2013) in the December In The Dirt E-letter.
Posted November 15, 2013

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