It’s fall. That means it’s time for pumpkins galore. I’m a big fan of pumpkins and gourds and pretty much any variety of winter squash. I’ll admit it – I probably go a bit overboard in my fall decorating with these little beauties. Walk up to my front door and you’ll be greeted by large pumpkins, beautiful gourds, and don’t forget the pots of colorful mums. My dining room table and mantel are adorned with miniature pumpkins, dried Indian corn, and beautiful, bumpy gourds. What can I say? I like to decorate from my garden by bringing a taste of the outdoors inside.
Pumpkins, while beautiful and special to me, are really nothing more than another kind of edible squash. That’s right – those glorious fall beauties we like to carve into Jack O’Lanterns are first-cousins to the yellow squash and zucchini you’ve either come to love or hate sometime around late July.
Not Your Average Pumpkin
I love heirloom pumpkins for so many reasons. They are delicious, healthy for you, and they make a house feel like home in the fall. Heirloom pumpkins have gorgeous appearances and can be anything from orange to green, brown, white, or even a nice blue color. Yes, blue pumpkins. Heirloom pumpkins are bumpy, smooth, shiny, mottled, and everything in-between.
If all you’ve ever known are store-bought orange pie pumpkins and maybe a random butternut squash dish at your grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner, you really owe it to yourself to branch out and try some heirloom squash. While we love a good pie pumpkin and acorn or butternut squash or two, there is so much more to the squash family that you’re probably missing out on.
There are Cinderella pumpkins, an heirloom pumpkin with a gloriously deep orange color, that’s good for canning, pumpkin breads and decorating. How about the Winter Luxury pumpkin? It’s one of the best pie-making pumpkins around and will put any store-bought pie pumpkins to shame.
And the squash! There are so many beautiful, delicious, and durable winter squash to choose from. There are of course traditional heirloom varieties of spaghetti squash and acorn squash. And then there are the more unique ones like Delicata, and Red Kuri, and Peanut squash. My personal favorite is the Sweet Dumpling squash. (The name was given based on its amazing taste.) Like fried squash? You’ll definitely want to try the Georgia Candy Roaster squash.
While it’s too late to grow these little beauties in your home garden this year, you can certainly make plans to have them for next season. Heirloom squash are fun and easy to grow, and make for interesting yet delicious meals around the table. Just imagine never having to buy another store-bought pumpkin ever again. Spend a few dollars on quality heirloom seed just once, and you’ll be able to grow your own Jack O’ Lanterns and fall decorations forever. (One of the many benefits of heirlooms is the ability to save your seed season after season after season.) That’s a nice little chunk of money in the long run. Plus, it’s quite possible that if you grow some of the more unique heirloom squash, your garden will be the envy of the neighborhood, and you may even be able to make a little extra money by selling off the extra bounty of your heirloom squash crop.
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Cooking With Winter Squash
Whether you grew your own winter squash this year or not, you can certainly still enjoy eating it. Farmers markets are loaded down with beautiful squash this time of year, so you really owe it to your tastebuds to try some. Good old-fashioned pumpkin pies and hearty squash casseroles will never go out of style. However, there’s plenty more you can do with your winter squash crops. Ever had squash risotto or a gourmet squash ravioli? The possibilities are endless.
Need a few quick and easy ways to prepare your heirloom winter squash? Try these ideas:
- Bake It. Slice your winter squash into large chunks, scraping away any seeds and cut away the rind. Season with your favorite spices and drizzle with olive oil. Bake approximately 45 minutes to an hour in a 375 degree oven. Under-baked squash will be chewy, while over-baked squash will be mushy. You’ll want the texture to be somewhere in between. Looking for something different? Drizzle your squash with maple syrup and bake with chopped fresh sage and walnuts for an amazing flavor.
- Grill It. If you can grill a hamburger, you can grill squash too. Simply slice the squash into large pieces or cut in half. Scrape away the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil, season with your favorite spices and grill until done.
- Fry It. Simply slice your squash and fry over medium heat. You can do this stir-fry style, or you can fry in a pan of oil. One of our favorite side dishes is deep-fried winter squash. I coat my squash chunks in a buttermilk cornmeal mixture and then fry in oil at 375 degrees for about 6-7 minutes. (My kids go crazy for this recipe.)
- Roast Your Seeds. Winter squash seeds are delicious – and we’re not just talking about pumpkin seeds. Pretty much all of them are delectable. Separate your seeds from the pulp, rinse and dry. Toss them with some olive or coconut oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and toast them in a 275-degree oven until brown. Roasted squash seeds make a great snack and make a unique, wonderfully delicious salad topping.
- Make Soup. Roast your squash in the oven and then scoop out the flesh and puree. Add in your favorite stock and spices, and you’ve got squash soup. You can serve squash soups hot or cold…whatever your preference may be. Add in a few cheese tortellini and you’ve got a gourmet dish.
Of course, you also can take a winter squash and “make it cute.” Want to bring the hit dish to your Thanksgiving get-together? Take a small squash, such as acorn squash, slice in half, and roast it in the oven. Remove from the oven and then fill the cute miniature squash halves with seasoned rice, cornbread stuffing, or even apples and raisins. Bake again until warm and serve right away.