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That Squash Again

October 29, 2014

Who knew squash and pie would elicit questions.  My big confession is that recipes are just where I start.  What came first the recipe or the pantry?  I have no idea anymore.  Farm food is an extension of my life, of what I do every day.  What’s for dinner?  Don’t ask, it will appear.  On tap for today was Cream of Sauerkraut soup, a request actually.  But, I came back to the house after moving the cows with a bag of fresh mushrooms. So tonight we’re having mushrooms.  Cream of sauerkraut soup will be good on another day, the kraut will keep.

Sweet Meat winter squash

Sweet Meat winter squash

A farm kitchen and the farm meals are just an extension of the farmers themselves.  The winter squash we grow is a good example.  The only part that isn’t used is the stem.  That goes into the compost bucket for chickens.  I am sure they don’t notice it, it just becomes carbon in the deep bedding and eventually ends up in the garden again, or in the pasture.

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Since the squash keeps so well in its raw state, I cook a squash over a week’s time, throughout the winter and into the spring until we tire of squash.  I grow so many, not so much for the humans, but for the hens and the dogs.  I know, feeding squash to dogs?  They love it.  Plus they never complain about my cooking and they are good listeners.  Dogs are funny like that.  And the hens?  You want good yolk color in the winter?  Feed your hens winter squash, kale is good too, but those red yolks I get are from the beta carotene in the squash mostly.  One a week will feed twenty hens a good dose of beta carotene and turn that into stupendous eggs for you.

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To get the squash into usable form for me in the kitchen I make “canned pumpkin” every week.  To do that, I start by busting off the stem usually with the knife handle, then I proceed to cut the squash in half.  If you break off the stem, you expose the weak point of the squash.  Cutting around the equator or starting at the blossom end is a good way to gut yourself in the kitchen.  It helps too to place the squash on towel so it’s not so apt to slip.  I start my cut there at the stem hole because the squash will sit squarely (roundly?) on the cutting board while you wrestle with it.  I’m not kidding, these things are tough.  Sometime I just chop them with the axe while I’m building a fire but most of the time I break them down in the kitchen.

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I keep cutting until I get to the bottom on one side, and then I turn the squash and repeat the same cutting on the other side.

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You will hear or feel the squash rind pop or release when you have made it all the way through.

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At this point you can pry it open with your hands and continue cutting or just break what little rind you haven’t cut yet.

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Now I have just taken nature’s perfect package and damaged it.  I don’t want to cook a 15 pound squash in one day, so I only cook part of it, about a quarter of it actually.  Many times your kitchen tools determine what you can do, it’s that way with the “pumpkin pie.”  It starts with my 5 quart kettle I steam the squash in.  I like to steam the squash, it’s faster than roasting, and it stays moist for any kind of dish I want to make.  Baking is okay but it seems to take longer than I want, and time is money with an oven.

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By now, I know just how big of hunk to cut off the squash half, basically I am cutting the squash like a cantaloupe and slicing off wedges until I have enough to fill my steamer basket.  Too much and the lid won’t fit and the squash won’t cook properly.  I cook the squash flesh side down until a knife or fork easily penetrates the skin.  Around 40 minutes at medium high heat.  Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside until cools.

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To prepare my slices for cooking I remove the seeds and pulp with a paring knife.  The seeds are great roasted, or you can save them for seed if the squash meets your criteria for seed saving.  This one is one of my oddballs, weird shape and it was oozing a pitch-like substance at harvest so I won’t be saving these seeds for planting but if we don’t eat them, they may go into Jane’s dinner dish, or I might just send them to the hens.  Zero waste.

To store the rest of the uncooked squash, leave the seed cavity intact until you plan to cook the squash.  It will keep better.  You can put plastic wrap on it and refrigerate, or you can just leave it on the counter until your ready.  Our house is cool, so I can get away with that for a few days.  If it was more convenient you could cook the squash in its entirety and freeze in containers that suit your recipes.  I never do that since freezer space is at a premium here and the squash keeps so good it seems futile to me.  Like the broth I make each week, if it’s in the fridge I am compelled to use it in my cooking, once I commit something to the freezer it’s pretty much gone to me unless we’re talking meat, butter or raspberries!

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So now that I have my steamed squash, or “canned pumpkin” I can proceed to the eating.  Keeping with the idea of waste not, want not, I scoop the flesh away from the skin and put into a container for the refrigeration.  The skin and a little pulp goes into a container for dog food.  The dogs love the squash along with their other food items.

At this point I can use the cooked squash in any recipe calling for pumpkin or squash.  We consume most of ours as…squash.  One of my favorite lunches is Cheese Henge, I heat the squash with a little butter until it’s warm through and then stick cheddar cheese sticks in it.  They melt a bit, and the salt and sweet go down good.  My kid started calling it Cheese Henge when she was little and the name stuck.  But really it’s just weird food, made possible by the convenience of having precooked squash in the fridge.

As for the pie, that really depends too on what’s on hand.  I get out the big 4 quart pyrex bowl, add up to about 4 cups of squash, sugar, spices, vanilla and as many eggs as I have on the counter up to about 6, mix all that together and then add milk or cream until I think the bowl will fill the pie dish, mix and then pour.  Sometimes I have more, so I bake the extra as custard in custard cups.  Farm kitchen pie.  Too simple for a recipe, and very forgiving I might add.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2014 1:35 pm

    I can see why thecrazysheeplady recommended your blog. You are an encyclopedia!

  2. Wendy from NY permalink
    October 29, 2014 3:30 pm

    Fascinating! I always wondered how people dealt with those huge squashes, very informative!

  3. October 29, 2014 3:48 pm

    Good idea about the steamer. Last time I cooked a squash I used the crock pot. That worked pretty well too. I think my days of roasting squash in the oven may be over.

  4. October 29, 2014 5:28 pm

    Chopping squash alongside firewood – that is brilliant! I feed it to our dogs, too, and the seeds and skin often go to the goats – pumpkin seeds in particular are supposed to help with parasites.
    -Jaime

  5. Roz permalink
    October 29, 2014 6:18 pm

    My boyfriend never heard of people eating pumpkin seeds (can you believe it? LOL!) so I’m going to get a pumpkin for the seeds, and I will try the steaming on the flesh. Never done that but is sounds so much more efficient! That’s a LOT of flesh in those naked seed squash, wow! I need to try to grow some 🙂

    • October 31, 2014 6:34 pm

      You might want to pick a “pie” or “sugar” pumpkin for eating. The general “carving” pumpkins have had the flavor bred out, in favor of uniform size and easy shipping.

      I was surprised with my first from-the-pumpkin pie, that there was so much fiber, lots of strands of it. That was when I learned that a blender or food processor — even the hand held one I have — reduces the fibers to the small size we came to expect after generations of “pie filling comes from a can” traditions.

  6. Allisa Imming permalink
    October 29, 2014 6:58 pm

    Thanks for the peek into your kitchen!

  7. October 29, 2014 10:39 pm

    Your approach to cooking sounds a lot like mine. What’s in the fridge, pantry etc. and that’s what I cook. Last night we had some pork steaks (small), mashed potato and squash (our potatoes were rather short this year and so eke them out with squash. Peppers and garlic scrapes from the freezer, carrots and parsnips steamed. The only thing we didn’t grow was the pork! 🙂

    • October 29, 2014 10:39 pm

      I forgot to add that I also added apples to the pork, peppers and garlic scrapes in the frying pan

    • October 30, 2014 4:16 am

      Yum, never a dull moment in a farm kitchen is there? And always good food!

  8. JP Swift permalink
    October 30, 2014 4:45 am

    Matron,
    You’re so “out- of -style” you’re actually back in style. You speaking of your handling of squash fondly reminded me of my grandfather working up his blue hubbards he grew. Some weighed as much as 45 pounds. He would use a hatchet. When cured the skin seemed like rocks to me. Thanks for jogging the fond memories.

    • October 30, 2014 5:18 am

      Thank you! I remember when Hubbards were sold in the store in pieces, now I doubt you would see a squash cut open in a store, usually just a huge pile of misc. squash in a big gaylord container, and sadly many consumers have no idea what is inside.

      • Louise permalink
        October 30, 2014 5:51 am

        My local IGA here in MT (well–25 miles away) currently has squash cut up and wrapped. Nice for single folks. They also have industrial cans for ranching families. Service to compete with mega stores.

  9. October 30, 2014 9:24 am

    I cook like you do. When I first started, I used recipes, but now I find that what I have laying around is never in the recipe, so by the garden and pantry I fly. Thank you for the details about how to cut the big squash. I was thinking I needed a meat cleaver and a rubber mallet! I probably still need a mallet anyway, because I highly doubt I am as strong as you are! I wonder if cutting into the stem end would even work with moschata sp.

    It is a goal of mine this year to learn how to make a good pie. I can make a decent filling, but I need to experiment with different crust types. Matron, what’s your crust technique? (since we are both hesitant to call our kitchen experiments recipes lol)

    • October 30, 2014 11:15 am

      Emily, I’m pretty much an all butter pie crust type of cook, and have morphed our pies, sweet or savory to one crust unless I’m doing a lattice. My go-to is 4 oz salted butter (more or less because it’s in a jar) to 1 cup flour, and about 1/8 cup cold water, this is for one crust, or double if I am doing a two crust pie. I’ve never had any trouble with it, and those measurements work with lard too, but I have way less of that…even ghee does work in a pinch. Pretty much hands in too, no pastry cutters, knives etc, a bowl, a fork for mixing in the water and that’s about it.

      • October 30, 2014 8:06 pm

        Thank you for contributing to my experiments! I will be comparing an all-butter crust to a half lard, half butter crust. I have a lot of lard, and it is cheaper for me to get than butter, thanks to the nice pig guy at the farmer’s market 🙂

  10. November 7, 2014 1:40 pm

    Matron,
    I so appreciate your breakdown of how you use squash. I let my chickens run my garden throughout the winter. I also have a small corner of my garden that is the community compost bin (I live in a subdivision). This summer, all kinds of squash grew in my garden thanks to the combo of the compost/chickens. I grew 2 dozen pumpkins of all shapes and sizes as well as butternut and acorn squash. My parents grew buttercup squash (without realizing it). Everyone just tells me to feed the squash/pumpkins back to the chickens and they have partaken of those that have already started rotting, but I’ve been looking and looking for ways to cook with them and honestly, it seems like no one does this anymore so it’s hard to find instructions on using them. I’m also stoked you mentioned the use of lard in pie crusts because my dad recently butchered hogs and I asked for all the lard to use as suite cakes for my chickens. The butcher ended up giving me about 18 2-lb containers of lard (from 3 hogs) and it’s so lovely I thought for sure there would be some way to use it to feed my family, not just my (very spoiled) hens.

    • November 7, 2014 2:44 pm

      AmyK, you’re welcome! I am glad you found the detailed post useful. Oh my goodness lard pie crusts are delicious! I’m not sure if your butcher supplied the lard rendered or not. If not you’ll have to do that before cooking with it, but it’s well worth the effort.

  11. November 10, 2014 2:39 pm

    Thanks so much for the tip about sectioning huge squashes and using them a chunk at a time. I’ve always avoided large squash such as Hubbard because it seemed like so much to use up. And I learned last night that Hubbard makes great pies, so they’re definitely on my shopping list!

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