A recent trip to the grocery store brings about the inspiration for this story. As I was in line to pay, the customer in front of me was purchasing acorn squash. This time of year, they are piled high in produce bins alongside the multicolored gourds, ornamental corn, and mini pumpkins. The teenager bagging the groceries held up one of the acorn squash, surveying it, and asked, “What do you do with these?” The purchaser replied she was going to make baked stuffed squash to which the perplexed teen replied I thought these were only for Halloween decorations. Hmmm, so what do we really do with squash and what the heck are gourds anyway?
Cucurbitaceae is a genus of annual plants that crawl around taking up space with their languishing vines and produce fruits at the base of the blossoms. A plant family with a broad range of over 700 species that includes cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, and squash.
These are the earliest picked of the group and include cucumbers, zucchini, and crookneck. They are harvested when the seeds are immature inside and the flesh is still tender and edible. The vines are more bush-like and do not take up as much space in the garden. These can be harvested anytime they are showing their full color and size.
These are hard-shelled with little flesh inside, they dry and preserve well. In history, they have been used as musical instruments, spoons, bowls, and as a sponge (the luffa gourd). Ornamental gourds are grown most often for decoration and have many types of usual colors, shapes, and warty texture making them prized for fall decorations. Gourds are ready to harvest from the garden when the stems dry out and turn brown. Leave a few inches of stem attached to prevent rotting.
They get a class all their own by the very nature of their popularity. As noted by my previous post, they also get a post all their own! This bright orange harbinger of autumn are typically thought of for decorating but the smaller sugar pumpkins are flavorful when the pulp is baked to the consistency of pudding and used in soups, cakes, breads and pies. Harvest pumpkins when the color is deep and rich and the outside is hard. Leave 3 to 4 inches of stem attached to prevent premature rotting at the stem end.
These fruits have harder skins that need a longer growing period. Hubbard, butternut, and acorn are a few familiar ones. Winter squash are warm-season plants. They differ from summer squash because they are harvested in the mature fruit stage; picked when the seeds inside are fully mature and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. Most varieties can be stored for use throughout the winter. Typically, they are cut open and baked to soften the insides with spices or meats to season them. Most have a nutty flavor and tend to pick up other flavors easily.
So really, what do you do with acorn squash?
Baked Acorn Squash
This is a recipe from childhood. I remember the warmth of the kitchen and the aroma of maple syrup as my mom would bake up acorn squash as a side dish for dinner.
One acorn squash, cut in 1/2
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Scoop the seeds and stringy pulp out of the squash halves and discard. Lightly score the inside halves with a knife. Combine the brown sugar, butter, syrup in a small mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Rub and coat the cleaned inside cavities of the squash with the butter mixture. Place them on a baking sheet, cut side up. Bake for about 1 hour or until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork.