Branching out at the farmers’ market: Squash

With so many varieties of produce available at the farmers’ market, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or to always go back to what you know. I challenge you to branch out, try something new, and ask questions to the folks who grow your food. They can help you discover your next favorite pepper, tomato, squash, and more.

In my quest to explore the unknown at the market, I was drawn to a large, beautiful squash that I hadn’t seen very often before. I struck up a conversation with a farmer and she introduced me to the Cushaw Squash, an heirloom variety. These impressive green and white streaked squash weigh in at around 10-15 pounds, have a delicious and mild flavor, and last in storage for months after harvest.

They are also one of the heritage foods certified by Slow Food USA as one of their Ark of Taste products. The Ark of Taste works to catalog and bring awareness to traditional foods of distinctive quality that are at risk of extinction. The rare Green-striped Cushaw is believed to have been domesticated in Mesoamerica sometime between 7000 and 3000 B.C., and more recently is a traditional and loved ingredient in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Appalachia.

Long ago they were cut into rings, put on broom handles and then dehydrated over a fire. These dehydrated rings were then preserved and used all through the winter in soups. Hearing about this rich history made me much more excited about the Cushaw Squash and inspired to try something similar in my own cooking.

Another favored method of preparing these beautiful squash that is traditional in Creole cuisine is to quarter it and cook it in the rind, after removing the seeds. Put it in oven and bake until it is soft enough to be pierced with a fork. Serve it in the rind, with butter on top. Another great method is to peel and cut into small pieces and steam until it is very soft. Do not add water as it contains quite enough. Mash and salt and pepper, and flavor with sugar, nutmeg or cinnamon. Stir in a lump of butter, and serve.

What will your new produce discovery be?