There is a giant squash I have been seeing in all the little markets around Toronto. It looks like a flattened, ribbed, green and orange pumpkin. Even before Hallowe’en, I knew it was primarily an eating squash, not a decorative one, because it’s usually sold cut into roasting-sized chunks. I don’t know its name and have never seen it anywhere other than here but it seems to be everywhere in Toronto.
I figured I needed to try it, since it was so popular, and potentially some sort of regional heirloom gem, so I bought a hunk of it the other day and baked it up. It seemed like it was taking forever for it to soften up – I waited and waited, and finally decided it must be time to eat, since it was starting to look like it was drying up rather than cooking more. I wasn’t hopeful, since it still seemed firm and didn’t look like the sugars had caramelized on top at all or anything. But then I realized why: it’s another form of spaghetti squash, even though the flesh is a deep orange. It tastes like spaghetti squash, but the strands are coarser. I took a picture of some smaller specimens of the squash in a market, since the small chunk I bought isn’t that photogenic. I would say … worth eating if you like spaghetti squash (which I really do), but that different or earth-shattering. Anyone know what this squash is called? It’s not in my favourite squash reference book The Compleat Squash.
Blue Banana squash was listed as a superior-tasting cousin to the more popular (but still not that common) Pink Banana squash in The Compleat Squash by Amy Goldman Fowler. I don’t totally trust this beautiful book, taste-wise, since she says Nippon Island squash is ornamental and barely edible and it’s one of my favourites and tastes like a delicious plantain. In this case, though, she was right. This squash is a good argument for foregoing the conveniently-sized one-person squashes that are increasingly taking over the squash market and just going for a behemoth because you know they are the old-fashioned ones bred for flavour. I’ve been eating slices of it at almost every meal since the farmer’s market on Saturday. This includes breakfast. The only tragedy is that I can’t get another. I went through something just to get this one.
At the last outdoor market of the season, I remembered seeing some Pink Banana squashes, and considering getting one but deciding not to, since I had a lot of squash at home as it was, and I figured I could always get one next week. The next week the market was indoors and I couldn’t find the seller again. Some of them don’t come to the winter markets, so I wasn’t sure they were there. The following week, though, I was on a mission to find really good squash. I decided to ask around to see if someone from The Stop could identify the seller that had the squash. Maybe they were hiding their large squashes? Or hadn’t brought them due to indoor space constraints? I described the stand and its location in detail, but the person I asked had no clue. The conversation was coming to a close and I was going to try asking someone else until I mentioned that they had had a lot of heirloom tomatoes in the summer, and then she perked up and pointed me to the table right across from her. Disappointingly they only had a few small acorn squash on display – boring. I decided to ask anyway, and the person I talked to directed me to someone else at the table. I asked about the Pink Banana squash and she pointed at her pies. They hadn’t sold well, and many had soft spots so she had cooked them all. She said there might be one at home, and she would check, but she wasn’t hopeful. I walked away but then turned around and asked about Blue Bananas. I am not sure why. She brightened and said they had planted them but harvested only one single fruit. Then she said she’d bring it for me the next week! Then she remembered and followed through, to my surprise. It was totally worth it. I promised to report back re: the flavour next week.
This was definitely in the top squash I have ever tasted in my life – sweet but not overly sweet, a buttery texture in the syrupy meat near the seed cavity and savoury powdery flesh near the skin. It doesn’t need to be turned into soup or have anything added to it at all. I’ve eaten 2/3 of the squash and every bite has just be baked with nothing at all added – no oil, salt, tahini sauce or whatever. Eat it if you can find it!
Edit: Oh, and the seeds are giant, and the guts are dry and sparse. Perfection.
Anyone who was around a couple years ago for my bumper squash crop knows I am passionate about winter squash. I’ve been doing my best to seek out the best squashes at the farmers’ markets and the health food co-op in Toronto.
If for some reason you are reading this and don’t know that we sold the land on PEI a year ago, and I now live in Canada’s largest urban area, well, now you know.
One of the things I miss most about being in the countryside is growing squash. I love good squash, and there is a huge difference in taste and texture between carefully selected varieties grown to full maturity and the insipid sweet but flavourless, often immature squash that is widely available. Fortunately I have been able to try a number of different squashes so far this year, and not had too many disappointments.
One of the great ones so far is Tiger Stripe Butternut, available at Karma Co-op. It’s a tiny, deep tan variety of butternut squash, and has that syrupy, intense flavour that butternut has at the best of times. This is impressive especially considering that the squash was either picked too early or had some other problem: butternut should last well into Spring and these are beginning to pucker and get soft spots already, both the ones in my house that I don’t eat right away, and the ones at Karma. On the plus side that means some of them are being sold half-off. The flesh is tender and caramelizes really nicely in the oven. Each squash is so small that it’s good as part of a meal for one person. The seeds are nothing to write home about, though: they are small and a lot of them are undeveloped, another clue that they were probably picked prematurely.
So when is squash fully mature? When the stem providing nutrients to the fruit dies down and loses all its green. The skin of most types of squash should be impenetrable by a fingernail (delicata and some others with a thin skin might not be). This is a good trick for testing out squash in markets, though admittedly almost all store-bought squash fails this test (even the turban squash I bought recently, and a fully mature and cured turban squash has a shell that is hard to cut without a cleaver). This is all according to Carol Deppe, who is my squash mentor, but also a bit wacky. But I believe what she’s saying here.
Here is my new show in Charlottetown on Grafton St. for the month of October.
Art in the Open was really fun. I gave away the 300+ dumpstered new shirts, shorts, backpacks, and bandanas in under 2 hours, met a bunch of people who loved getting free stuff, and had some great conversations about commercial waste, big box stores, etc. Also met with a couple of people who told me about their dumpstering adventures as well, which was cool.
I made a little video showing the progress of the shirts going from 300 to none.
I’ve neglected talking about gardening this year almost as much as I have neglected the garden. Happily, things are still growing well. It’s good to know what can out-compete weeds, ha ha. The dry beans Black Coco are stars, as are the black chickpeas and the spaghetti squash.
OK, here is another post I wrote over a week ago, during my artist residency in Quetico Provincial Park when I didn’t have access to internet.
I’ve been working in the Quetico artist studio pretty consistently for days, though stopping to swim out back pretty regularly too. Tomorrow is a final day trip on the canoe, and then an open studio and a workshop. Then my time here is sadly over. I completed 4 prints – two that will stay in the collection here at the park, and two that Friends of Quetico is purchasing to auction off in Toronto in the fall. Here are pics of the pieces I made based loosely on photos I took of fungus, pine needs, lichen, etc. during the canoe trip. Also some pictures of the studio that I wish I had more than 2 weeks in.
Here are the four pieces I created while at Quetico. Two are staying at the provincial park gallery, and two are being auctioned off by Friends of Quetico in Toronto this fall.
I wrote this last week, but I didn’t have internet access, so here it is now:
My second northern Ontario artist residency – this time at Quetico Provincial Park – has been really amazing so far. Travis and I spent 5 days canoeing in (a small part of) Quetico’s huge interior of hundreds of lakes connected by portages and at least one shallow, sketchy, lilly-padded swamp river. This wilderness park is hardcore about not putting signs by the portages or anywhere and otherwise minimizing traces of humans. Quetico is a little over 80% of the size of the whole province of PEI, so that’s pretty cool. I think this was the most remote wilderness I have experienced, including canoeing on the Yukon River and backcountry hiking and camping in Tombstone in the Yukon. It was really beautiful and fairly strenuous – one 1km portage and several at around half-three-quarters of a km, sometimes in succession.
In the interior of the park there were islands covered in blueberries and a new lake to swim in every day. I am gushing, but it’s been a really special experience. The last night in the interior, we camped on a small island between two rapids, with ledges of lichen-covered rock to perch on and watch the water.
Now I am back in this luxurious artist studio on a lake near a park ranger station, and nature centre log cabin, etc. I have another week to work on art stuff inspired by my time here, host an open studio, and lead a workshop. So, yeah, I am having an incredible time, and I want to come back. And I think I have gotten over my childhood aversion to portaging, (it’s much easier as an adult than as a 7-year-old) even if I still prefer paddling.