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An Age-Old Crush

Cooks have long loved squash for robust winter dishes

By Barbara Rust Brown

Squash has been part of the human diet for centuries, so it’s no surprise that it is among the first plants to be domesticated in America.

It’s also no surprise that squash comes in dozens of varieties, often characterized by softer-skinned summer staples and their more rigid-shelled winter cousins.

“Summer squash such as yellow squash and zucchini can be grown in the vegetable garden along with other plants,” notes Wesley Greene in Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way. But he cautions that winter squash “are best given a garden of their own,” because they need plenty of water and lots of room to spread and grow.

The Williamsburg Inn’s executive chef, Travis Brust, says there are numerous varieties of winter squash that are perfect for hearty dishes in the chilly months. Their color and versatility lend themselves to soups, pies and custards or served baked and mashed with butter and brown sugar.

“Don’t be afraid to try something new,” Brust said. “I first encountered kuri squash at the Williamsburg Farmers Market in Merchants Square about five years ago.” They are part of the Hubbard group of squash, which have been known to produce very large plants, according to Greene. Sometimes, members of this squash family can weigh more than 40 pounds.

Kuri squash are orange and round and full of nutrients. They look like a small pumpkin, often weighing in at around 5 pounds. Native to Japan, they are readily available at farmers markets or the grocery store, where they are usually found in a bin with other varieties of winter squash.

“We don’t find many recipes for squash in Colonial-era cookbooks,” said Historic Foodways apprentice Tiffany Fisk. “Squash were often boiled and put in a pudding or mashed and served with butter and salt.” They weren’t considered a delicacy by wealthy Colonial Virginians, who fed squash to their farm animals.

Today, winter squash is grown in the Colonial Garden, the Prentis Garden and the Palace Garden in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area.

Fisk’s recipe is taken from an English cookbook published in 1671. It looks like a traditional pumpkin pie, but instead of an orange pumpkin, she uses a cushaw squash, a winter variety that is green and white and has a long, curved neck. Cushaw squash may be substituted for pumpkins in any favorite recipe.

Barbara Rust Brown is a freelance writer from Williamsburg, Virginia.

Some cooks prefer cushaw squash to pumpkin in everything from pies to side dishes to butters. (Tom Green/Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

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