Winter squashes sustained the Native Americans in the New England region for at least seven thousand years before the European explorers landed. Back when Maine became a state, it was common practice for farmers to grow fields of squashes for livestock feed. Squashes were layered in loose hay in the barn to prevent freezing and fed to farm animals all winter.
A nutrient dense vegetable, winter squashes are high in Vitamins A and C, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber. These squashes store exceptionally well through the long winters, and many don’t develop their characteristic sweetness until several weeks after harvest.
Fall markets are packed with tall, tan Butternuts, classic deep green, round Butternuts, creamy skinned with green stripes Delicatas, bright orange pumpkins, and bumpy, blue-green shelled Blue Hubbards.
Beautiful squashes, but many not ready to eat…. just yet.
For those of us that enjoy a moist, perfectly ripe and sweet squash, cutting and cooking an unripe, stringy mess can be depressing.
Winter squash have fed people throughout harsh winters for centuries because they lasted through the winter. In my experience, giant Blue Hubbards (35 – 45 pounds) have kept for over 2 years, and Butternuts squashes store well into early summer. Delicata, the “good –to-eat” squash, with a thin, edible skin, are best enjoyed before the New Year, and certainly by Valentine’s Day.
Growing pumpkins and squashes is not for those that like control over their garden. Their vines can cover a lot of territory quite quickly. Here at Rabbit Hill, we plant them on the edge of the garden, allowing the vines to grow freely through the forest.
The plants can never have too much compost or too much manure. They also thrive in composted lobster shells.
Once harvested, squashes need “curing”, storing in a warm and ventilated place, for two to three weeks. This allows the skins to harden, and lengthens the storage capacity of the fruit. Once cured, store squashes in a place between 50 – 60 degrees. An unheated bedroom work will work. At our house, we store Delicata and Butternut under the bed.
A hearty squash soup takes the chill off a fall gale, with plenty of nutrient dense calories to sustain active people. Jill McDonald, a student at Deer Isle Stonington High School, cooked up this Butternut Squash Bisque for her classmates in the school’s teaching kitchen.
The first squash she peeled was a nice, deep orange color with a very sweet flesh. The second squash was an immature version. Don’t despair! Adding some maple syrup to the cooked squash balanced the flavors nicely.
Rather than incorporating the dairy into the bisque, Jill decided to portion it out as a garnish when serving the soup. That way vegans, dairy lovers, and those with lactose intolerance could enjoy her soup. She plopped a tablespoon of heavy cream on top of the golden bisque, swirled it a bit, and then sprinkled chopped parsley.
We all agreed that Jill’s Butternut Squash Bisque was elegant, nourishing, and delicious.
JILL’S BUTTERNUT SQUASH BISQUE
- 2 cups cooked butternut squash (1 medium sized butternut squash, peeled and cooked)
- 2 tablespoons butter (or oil for a vegan version)
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 cup carrots chopped
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons Maine maple syrup
- Sea salt and fresh pepper
- ½ cup heavy cream or plain yogurt (coconut milk for a vegan version)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Peel and seed the butternut squash. Cut into cubes.
- Add squash to a heavy pot, cover with water and cook until tender. Remove from heat and taste squash. If needed, sweeten with Maine maple syrup.
- In a soup pot, melt the butter or heat the oil. Add the chopped onion and carrots, stirring. Cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken or vegetable stock. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add the cooked squash.
- To puree the soup: use an immersion blender, or transfer small amounts to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Season the soup with sea salt and fresh pepper.
- To serve, ladle the soup into heated cups or bowls. Add a dollop of cream, yogurt, or coconut milk and swirl. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.