Monday, November 12, 2012

Meatless Monday: Cook It Once, Eat It All Winter

Yesterday my husband and I took a trip to the country in search of a memory from Thanksgivings long past. My heart sank when we arrived at Bishop’s Orchards and found a mere semblance of what I was seeking — in a case rather than on display, cut in half, and wrapped in plastic. When the young man in the produce section beheld my crestfallen face, he asked if he could help, and then eagerly offered to get me a whole one from the back. I think he grabbed the biggest one he could find, placed it in my arms and then asked me what I was going to do with it. Behold my holy grail — a magnificent hubbard squash! 

There were many curious onlookers as I carried my find to the checkout aisle. Checkout posed a problem; the great squash had to be positioned just so to register on the scale — 20.79 lbs.!

The hubbard (classified as a Cucurbita maxima) is a thick-skinned winter squash with origins in South America. It was a common sight in fall markets through the ’50s and ’60s, became more of a novelty item for the next few decades, and now seems to be making a  comeback. The Library of Congress states that the hubbard squash was introduced to American gardens by James J. H. Gregory of Marblehead, MA in 1857. Marblehead was a prominent port city in those days; my guess is that Mr. Gregory’s hubbards arrived on a ship. Mr. Gregory became an authority on squash, publishing Squashes: How to Grow Them in 1893.

The hubbard has a thick skin; when stored in a cool place it will maintain an excellent flavor and texture throughout the winter. James Beard wrote in his Theory and Practice of Good Cooking (1977): “We used to store the huge Hubbards in the barn, chop them into pieces with a hatchet, then seed them and bake them in the shell with butter or bacon fat. Or, we might stem them, scrape out the pulp, and whip it up with butter and a little nutmeg or cinnamon… PurĂ©ed cooked squash makes a delicious soufflĂ© and, like pumpkin, a damned good pie.” In the small pamphlet What to Cook and How to Cook It published in 1924 by the Springvale National Bank in Springvale, Maine, Mrs. W.R.Jubb wrote, “Cut a large hubbard squash into halves and bake in a hot oven till the pulp is soft enough to remove with a spoon. Scrape it out; mix with a large cup of bread crumbs and plenty of salt and pepper, add a small cup of cream, heap the shell lightly, dot with butter, and brown; serve in the half shell.” Hmmm… I’m not sure my sister would welcome such a prominent contribution to her Thanksgiving Day table. Where would the turkey go?

Here’s my plan for this beauty. I intend to hew it in half somehow [without a hatchet but with my husband’s help], remove the seeds, and then roast it face down on metal trays in a 350° oven until it is tender. Next I will scoop out the cooked squash and turn some of into squash casserole [Click here for a photo and the link to the Meatless Monday site where my original recipe was featured.] and some more into a couple of “damned good” pies. The rest will go into plastic ziplock bags for the freezer, sized appropriately for future soups and casseroles. Any squash lover can tell you that the bulk of the prep time in any squash recipe is cooking the squash. I should have a good jump-start on my winter cooking when I’m through.

And a healthy start as well [assuming I keep all my fingers intact during the hacking]. Check out the nutritional information on hubbard squash here. Like other winter squash, the hubbard is extraordinarily rich in Vitamin A.

If you have the space in your garden and plenty of sunshine, perhaps you’d like to try growing a Blue  Hubbard. You can find seeds and customer testimonials here. The fruit matures in 110 days and weighs 15-40 pounds. There are 20-35 heirloom seeds in a packet. That’s a lot of squash!

Happy Monday! Come back next Monday for some Thanksgiving suggestions. Thanks for reading.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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