In Praise of Seasonal Squash

seasonal squash

We love fall and winter eating. Apples, nuts and leeks are all at their best, as well as squashes. Often overlooked, aside from the perennial favorite pumpkin pie, these little beauties come in many forms (butternut is one of our favorites but the Hubbard, buttercup and Bohemian varieties are also greatly tasty) and are a fabulous addition to soups, stews and curries as well as tasty roasted on their own or stuffed. Do try our Spicy Butternut Squash Soup recipe, if you haven’t already. Although butternut squash has its own beautiful flavor, many other types of squash can be substituted in the above recipe.

The word squash actually originates from the Narrangansett Indian word askutasquash, and European settlers to the new world had never seen anything quite like them. Even today, the sheer shape and color of some varieties still have the capacity to astonish, and a few can make beautiful ornamental gourds once you are done eating them.

Winter squash contains wonderful amounts of carbohydrates, which may have been the reason they were one of the first plants to be cultivated by first nations people in both north and south America. As well as the low calorie content of squash, the prodigious amounts of vitamin A (beta-carotene), potassium and their ease of digestion make them a perfect vegetable for both healthful and comforting fall and winter cooking.

butternut squash soup

In addition to their nutritious qualities, one of the things we like best about squashes, whether summer or winter, are their pronounced seasonality. At a time when most fruit and vegetable types are available all year round due to a combination of industrial agriculture and global transportation, squashes are still mainly found in the store only for a short period each year. In our opinion, this makes it a joy when they do appear, much like the spring arrival of asparagus and summer strawberry glut.

You may already be familiar with our SLO food approach to eating seasonally, locally and organically, but if not it is worth reiterating that this way of eating not only tends to be a great way to get the tastiest produce, it also dramatically reduces the impact of food production on the environment. Since the European Environment Agency calculates that around one third of the total impact of a household on the environment comes from their food consumption this is an important and relatively easy way of reducing your ecological footprint.

one straw revolution

The Japanese organic farming pioneer Masanobu Fukuoka, in his seminal 1974 book The One-Straw Revolution, made the observation that farmers were paid a premium for any kind of seasonal produce that could be produced more than one month earlier than the main crop. He also noticed, though, that these early yields paid a high price not only in reduced flavor but also in the quantity of extra energy use (such as artificial heat and light) and chemicals, which cost both money and precious resources. As a natural grower of mandarin oranges he discovered that the farmers who produced their crop early had to reproduce the typical colour and sweetness of the mature fruit using artificial colours and sweeteners, resulting in both a poorer and more expensive product.  The worst of both worlds. 

As it is with winter squashes, we would love to live in a world in which all fruit and vegetables were produced and consumed with respect to its natural season, and man was made to work to nature’s schedule rather than the other way round. With a little thought and adaptation, we, as consumers, can make it happen and go on to reap the benefits of better food and a cleaner environment.

Andy McLellan

Top Photo: Jeremy Seitz
Middle Photo: Valerie Hinojosa
Bottom Photo: Shantel Ruiz

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