If you’re not as familiar with cushaw squash as you are other fall squash varieties—-such as butternut, acorn, pumpkins, or kabocha squash—-well, you’re not alone. We weren’t all that familiar with it, either. Well, I’ve never even heard of it. John, on the other hand, had only temporarily forgotten about it until we visited our farmer friend Benny on Saturday.
After a hot morning spent taking a stroll through his fields, talking about the weather, and talking about the weather some more, Benny bent over and picked us a big ol’ cushaw squash from the vine. As we were on our way out, I asked Doris, Benny’s wife, what she does with them. She just shrugged her shoulders and mentioned baking it with brown sugar and butter. This must be an older way of doing squash, because John’s Granny in Missouri had a similar method for the yellow straightneck variety—a summer staple.
Turns out, what Benny’s got growing is one of many heritage foods certified by Slow Food USA as one of their Ark of Taste products. The Green-striped Cushaw, according to its listing on the Ark of Taste website, is believed to have been domesticated in Mesoamerica sometime between 7000 and 3000 B.C. It’s rare, though not impossible to find. It’s just that they’re being grown in such small numbers that it seems unlikely that future (or modern) farmers will find it worthwhile to cultivate them. But this is why Ark of Taste exists, to catalog and bring awareness to traditional foods of distinctive quality that are at risk of extinction.
Pretty cool that our pal Benny is growing them in our little part of the world! He has an early round that’s ready now, and just put out a second planting that we hope will be ready for harvest in late October. This is definitely something we’d love to include in our fall CSA boxes one week if his yield is enough. What a wonderful thing to share!
Roasted Cushaw Squash with Rosemary & Garlic
Being that the cushaw is not widely used, a recipe was hard to come by. I kept reading that cushaw squash was an excellent substitute for pumpkin in pie fillings, so I found a recipe in The Gift of Southern Cooking for roasted pumpkin with rosemary and decided to substitute the pumpkin with my cushaw squash. It worked! Here’s my adaptation:
My squash weighed in at a good six pounds, at least, so I only used half. I cut it lengthwise, scooped out the seeds, peeled the piece I planned to use, and wrapped the other half in saran for later use. Then I chopped it in 1 1/2-inch cubes, to yield about 6 cups chopped squash, and then set that aside while I prepared the rosemary and garlic.
The recipe called for walnuts, too, but because I didn’t have those in the pantry I just omitted them. I snipped a few sprigs of rosemary from the garden—to yield 1/4 cup of rosemary leaves–and peeled 3 big cloves of garlic. Chop the rosemary fine and slice the garlic into thin pieces. Set aside.
This is the photo I took when the squash was finished cooking and ready to be served. To cook the squash, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the chopped cushaw in one layer on a baking sheet, and drizzle with 4 tablespoons of good quality olive oil. Toss to coat, and give a good sprinkling of kosher salt. Bake the squash for 20 minutes, stopping halfway in between to stir the squash with a spatula to prevent it from sticking. After 20 minutes, sprinkle the squash with the rosemary-garlic mixture, and toss to coat the squash evenly. Cook another 10 minutes. Remove the squash from the oven, let cool, then season to taste with more salt and black pepper.
We enjoyed it for lunch, with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, but it would be good for dinner, too. It makes a fairly substantial vegetarian meal on its own, but would be equally delicious as a side with grilled pork chops or roasted chicken. Roasted, the cushaw squash was reasonably sweet, and somewhat smoky, as online articles suggested it would be. And it’s starchy texture makes it a very good stand in for potatoes. We’re definitely looking forward to having it again. Thanks Benny!