Squash Wars: Mystery Ontario Squash

photoThere 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.

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Squash Wars: Blue Banana

IMG_1921.JPG 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.

Squash Wars: Tiger Stripe Butternut

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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.