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.

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