I hate squash. Or did for the first 35 years of my life, anyway. In fact, squash is the primary reason that I developed such a passion for the culinary arts. I know that makes about as much sense as a fur coat in Tahiti, but it’s true.
Growing up, my only exposure to squash was via my great-great-grandmother Ethel. As a small child, I remember her slicing yellow squash, and boiling it to within an inch of its own existence. God love her heart. Although I believe butter makes anything better, in this case it was no help. The resulting “dish” was a bland, stringy, heinously textured yellow glop. Merely thinking about the taste and the mouth-feel of boiled and squashed yellow squash will, to this day, bring on fits of gagging. Excuse me for a moment…..
So I went about the next 30 years knowing to the pit of my being that squash was to be feared, detested, and marginalized. Like a vegan at a Beef Producers Expo, it could not be trusted.
One fine spring day, while dining with my mother at a national café style chain restaurant, she ordered a side of squash casserole. It looked something like southern cornbread dressing. Provocative. Can anything that looks like southern cornbread dressing be that bad?
I prodded it with a fork. It seemed to have texture.
I sniffed it. Nutty. Sweet. Oniony.
I tasted it. Clearly, they had gotten her order wrong. This wasn’t squash. This was something yummy. Something sweet and herbilicious, with a soufflé-like texture and a nice, buttery, bread crumb crust. Sort of like corn pudding.
It slowly began to sink in that perhaps I did not, in fact, hate squash. Could it be that I had been so duped for 30 years by the vegetable gods?
Knowing that a national restaurant chain was unlikely to share its recipe with me, I set out to create something similar. I’ve been through several iterations, but eventually settled on one that is consistently delish and super simple. I don’t often use any mixes, prepared foods, or other cheats when cooking, but in this case I do. Using a sweet cornbread mix shaves off much time, and makes this Squash Pudding sort of a no-brainer to prepare.
So squash was really my first understanding that maybe I didn’t really dislike the foods I thought I did. Maybe I didn’t detest duck. Maybe, just maybe, the super greasy, heavy flavor of the Duck in Bing Cherry Sauce that turned me off to duck so many years before was just a bad way to experience duck. And maybe, just maybe, sampling the overcooked mutton roast with mint jelly at my church’s Sedar Supper was not the best time to decide if I liked lamb. And maybe beets didn’t always taste like dirt.
I also figured that if my mind could be changed about squash, then other people’s minds could be changed about mushrooms, sweet potatoes, cabbage, or whatever food they swore off forever after a really bad first impression. Thus, my foodie mission became clear. Create believers out of non-believers. Mushroom lovers out of mushroom haters. In the process, I have found adventure in places and deliciousness in flavors I would never have believed I would. I LOVE a well prepared duck. A breast pan seared to medium rare in a light, citrusy sauce. And properly done lamb, especially of the Greek variety, is among my favorites.
I would like to say that now I know that there is really no food that can’t be made palatable with the proper preparation. However, I am still trying to figure out how to like beets. They still taste like dirt to me. If you have a suggestion, let me know, because I would love to conquer that demon!
To pay homage on this Thanksgiving to the vegetable that changed my perspective, I am sharing three recipes using different squash varieties. I hope you try one you haven’t had before, and find a new favorite along the way.
Indian Squash Pudding
- 6 medium-sized yellow summer squash
- 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
- 1 -8oz box sweet cornbread mix
- 1 can chicken broth
- 2 eggs
- 2 t salt
- 1 t ground black pepper
- 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
- 3 T butter, cut in small pieces
Preheat oven to 350*
Wash the squash, and cut the ends off. Slice squash into ½ inch thick slices. Place in a small stockpot with chicken broth and onions. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Beat in cornbread mix, salt, pepper and eggs. Pour into a 3 quart casserole. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the top, and dot with butter. Bake for 1 hour.
Roasted Acorn Squash With Maple and Cayenne
- 2 acorn squash
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 400* Line a baking pan with foil.
Cut the squash in half long ways. Scoop out the seeds (an ice cream scoop is great for this). Cut a small layer off the outside of each half, so that it will sit flat in the baking sheet. Place 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon maple syrup in the cavity of each squash. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper, using ¼ to ½ teaspoon each, depending on your tolerance for heat. Bake for one hour, basting each half with the butter from its cavity a few times.
Orange Scented Butternut Squash Pie With Pecan Crumble
Makes 1 pie.
- 1 large butternut squash
- Juice AND zest of 1 small thin-skinned orange
- 1/3 cup evaporated milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- 1 t cinnamon
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 9” pie crust, your favorite recipe
- ½ cup chopped pecans
- 4 tablespoons softened butter
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
Place oven rack on lowest position. Cut squash in half long ways. Place cut side down on foil lined baking sheet, and bake at 400* for 60-75 minutes. Squash should be blistered and brown on the outside, and very soft inside. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, and scoop pulp out of the skin. This may be done a day or two in advance.
Reduce oven heat to 350*
Mash squash, and measure out 3 cups into a mixing bowl. Add orange juice and zest, milk, salt, spices, eggs and sugar. Beat for two minutes. Pour into pie crust, and bake for 30 minutes. While it is baking, cut butter into brown sugar and flour until you have large crumbs. Toss in pecans. Remove pie after 30 minutes, and sprinkle the pecan mixture over the top. Return to oven and bake for 45 more minutes, or until the center is set.