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Squash now on favorite food list

by: , Squashes come in all shapes, sizes and colors and are now coming into their own locally. The flesh ranges in color from golden-yellow to brilliant orange. Most winter squash grow on vines and become fully mature after cool weather sets in.

Squash didn't make my favorite foods list when I was growing up - not even the bottom rung. It fell in the same category as sweet potatoes: Those were foods kids just should not have to eat.

Thankfully, my taste buds grew up with the rest of me. I now look forward to adding the earthy flavors of winter squash to my menus at this time of year.

In days when we were more dependent on the seasons, squashes categorized as 'winter squash' were harvested in fall and stored to eat throughout the winter. Locally, our farmers and home gardeners are just beginning to harvest winter squash.

Winter squashes have a hard, thick skin and come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. The flesh ranges in color from golden-yellow to brilliant orange. Most winter squash grow on vines and are harvested when fully mature after the cool weather sets in.

I remember acorn and hubbard squash from my childhood; certainly other varieties would have been available. Today we find a wide variety of squash at the farmers' markets. They come from the fields in beautiful hues and shapes. Besides being delicious fall foods, pumpkins and squash are popular fall decorations. Some popular varieties found locally are:

Acorn - Dark green and acorn shaped, this squash is probably the most popular and easily prepared.

Ambercup - A relative to the buttercup squash, this variety resembles a small pumpkin. It has an extraordinarily long shelf life.

Banana - Has the same coloring and shape as - you guessed it - a banana. It can grow up to two feet in length. You will often find it cut into smaller lengths at the grocery store.

Butternut - Another popular squash easily found in the supermarket. Butternut squash are beige in color and have a very curvaceous shape. This squash is often steamed and pureed into soup.

Buttercup - a member of the Turban squash family, this squash is much sweeter than other winter varieties.

Carnival Squash - This squash is cream colored with green and yellow vertical stripes. The flesh tastes like a cross between sweet potatoes and butternut squash.

Delicata - This is one of my personal favorites! Did I ever think I'd say that about squash when I was 10? Delicata is actually an heirloom variety of squash. With a thinner skin than other winter squash, it has a shorter storage life than other winter squash.

Fairytale Pumpkins - the shape and color of this pumpkin are reminiscent of Cinderella's coach. The deep color makes it a popular choice for fall decorating.

Hubbard - These are very large and warty-skinned squashes. Not pretty, but very good eating. This is another squash that is usually cut and sold in pieces at the grocery store. Hubbards can be stored for up to six months, under ideal conditions.

Spaghetti - Want to get your children to eat squash? The appearance of cooked spaghetti squash is too unique to pass up. When cooked, the flesh separates into strands resembling spaghetti. Just top with your favorite spaghetti sauce and see what happens!

Turban - These squash are more often used for decoration than for food. Their unique color and shape make them popular for centerpieces. You can also hollow them out and use them as a soup tureen.

The hard skin of a winter squash can be difficult to cut. To cut a squash safely, set the squash on a damp kitchen towel to keep it in place on the counter, then place the blade of a chef's knife on the squash and tap the back of the blade with a mallet.

To remove the seeds and stringy membranes, use an ice cream scoop.

A pound of winter squash equals about two cups of cooked, mashed squash. You should allow 1/3 pound of squash per person.

There are countless ways to prepare squash. The following recipes call for cooking squash in two different manners: Baking and steaming. Try them both to add variety in your fall menus.

Baked Squash with Blueberries

Makes six servings

3 acorn squash

1½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries (or use cranberries)

½ tart apple, peeled and diced

6 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar

6 teaspoons butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove fibers and seeds.

In a medium bowl, mix together blueberries, apple, brown sugar and butter. Fill squash halves with blueberry mixture.

Place in an ungreased casserole dish; add ½ cup water around the squash. Cover and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, then remove cover and bake for 10 minutes more, or until squash is tender. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Adapted from whatscookingamerica.net

Mashed Butternut Squash with Ginger

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1½ inch cubes

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Table salt

Ground white pepper

Fit a large soup kettle with a steamer basket; fill kettle with enough water to come to bottom of basket. Bring water to boil; add squash to steamer. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until squash is very tender when pierced with a thin-bladed knife, 14 to 16 minutes.

Transfer squash to a shallow bowl, add butter, ginger and salt and ground white pepper to taste. Mash with a fork to a coarse puree. Adjust seasoning and serve.

(Squash can be covered and refrigerated overnight.)

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at brandall@lakeosw

goreview.com .