Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Days of Squash and Pumpkins


Every year, it seems to happen overnight. One day, we’re enjoying the last of the corn and savoring the fall crop of raspberries and then the next the season changes for good and autumn settles in. Although the days have been gradually getting shorter, the night abruptly feels long when we first fire our home’s heater and harvest the last of the obstinately green tomatoes.

As we pull out the corduroys and fuzzy wool sweaters, track down our gloves and coats, it finally feels right to turn to the steady and sturdy hard-skinned squash. Having spent months with the easy, yet elusive, flavors of summer, it’s comforting to spend the time to peel away the squash’s resilient rind and then melt away the rigidity of its flesh. These are the days of squash and pumpkins.

The squash that makes its way to the farmers’ markets of autumn is a warm-season vegetable that can be grown in most parts of the country. Unlike “summer” squash, hard-skinned squash are harvested when the seeds have matured and the skin hardened. At this stage of maturity, the squash can be stored throughout the winter, earning the designation “winter” squash. Another botanical oddity is that although the squash is a fruit of the vine, usually sweet and often used for dessert, we consider it to be a vegetable.

I’ll be spending a lot of time with the locavore’s thick skinned friend having picked up my squash sampler from Farmer Vicki of Genesis Growers on Saturday, a box full with varieties beyond the pie pumpkin and butternut squash. In addition to those and the acorn, we’ve got delicata (sweet potato squash), buttercup, red kuri, green and scarlet kabocha, dumpling and spaghetti. My mind is bustling with visions of lamb and pumpkin stew, sausage and apple stuffed acorn squash, pies and gratins. Check back here frequently to see where each variety ends up.

Spiced Pumpkin Muffins

I used to make this recipe with golden raisins instead of chocolate chips. Thor suggested the switch and we’ve never gone back. I have an oddity bottle of Austrian pumpkinseed oil in my fridge. I use a tablespoon of it in my batter. I add the tablespoon to the measuring cup and measure up to ½ cup with canola oil. For these pictures, I used my adorable Williams-Sonoma acorn cake pan - buttering and flouring left a bit of a residue on the cakes, so I glazed them with maple syrup thinned with water and reduced in saucepan over medium heat.


Makes 18 muffins

+ large eggs
½ cup canola oil
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon mace
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° F. Fill 2 standard muffin tin with 18 paper or silicone cups. Whisk together the eggs, oil, pumpkin puree, and ¼ cup water. Mix together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir in the chocolate chips. Scoop batter into the prepared muffin tins equally. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a tester comes out with only a few crumbs.

This site is a great guide to unusual squash varieties.

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