Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cushaw Squash-Apple Butter

The easiest way to tell that we're in the death throes of another farmbox season is that the squashes are showing up fast and furious. This year so far, we've received acorn, butternut, buttercup, and, just this past week, a lesser-known variety like the one seen in the photo above known as a green-striped Cushaw. At first, I hadn't the slightest clue what this monster gourd (about the size of a canned ham and weighing in around 8 lb) in my garage was nor did I have any idea what to do with it. After a bit of investigation, I determined that it's actually an heirloom (i.e., once popular, but now rarely found) squash variety that's now mostly favored in Southern locales like Tennessee, New Mexico, and Louisiana, primarily as a substitute for pumpkin (in fact, you might be able to find a Cushaw pie somewhere in Cajun country if you look hard enough). Some more digging turned up a recipe for pumpkin (or other winter squash) apple butter on a vegan cooking blog. I'm not normally in the practice of seeking out vegan recipes, but it looked appetizing/not terribly challenging and was a change of pace from the usual stuffed squash or roasted squash that are my fallback preps.

Like many squash dishes, the hardest part involves reducing the squash into a usable pulp for cooking. With this one, I simply chopped off the long neck, (carefully) sliced open the body and dug the seeds/guts out of the cavity, and roasted the halves face-down in a glass baking dish at 350F until tender (about 45 minutes). Once it cooled a bit, I peeled off the skin using a vegetable peeler, then sliced the meat into roughly 1-inch cubes. After plumping the raisins (which didn't really plump much) in apple juice, I threw the squash pieces along with the juice and raisins into a food processor and turned it on, praying that the liquid in the bowl wouldn't overflow onto my counter and cabinets (the mixture was above the danger level marked on the side, giving me a bit of pause - I had a bad experience once that started out like this). Luckily, no leakage occurred and I completed the recipe without incident.

When finished, the resulting mish-mash of applesauce, heirloom squash, sweeteners, and spices resembled not so much a butter as a spread or a slurry, if you will. Despite its appearance, it was actually quite tasty. I tried it on wheat toast, English muffin, and even straight up as a sweet side along with dinner. My favorite use ended up being as a topping for vanilla ice cream, echoed by Mrs. Hackknife. Tastewise, you couldn't tell that there was squash in there instead of pumpkin, and I think that the squash bits gave it a nice texture, almost comparable to coconut flakes. A week after the fact, I'm still enjoying the remnants (viva la vegan!)....

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