Just squash it

By Hyacinth Miles

A few years ago, my parents signed up for a local vegetable subscription. The service would provide ex-tobacco farmers with a reliable income while they transitioned to other types of farming and subscribers with an easy supply of fresh local produce.

My mom was especially enthusiastic about this plan, eager no doubt for all kinds of succulent tomatoes and sweet strawberries—the kinds of things you can’t buy in the grocery store any more, but can vaguely remember through artificially flavorings and convenient packages from your grocer’s freezer. She looked forward to an entire summer of culinary delights.

Instead, proving that no good deed goes unpunished, she got squash. And then she got more squash. It wasn’t even easy squash like zucchini, but some of those really hard to cook squashes. Butternut was the most common, but we got one or two acorn squashes as well and a couple that I never was able to identify, even with the help of The Joy of Cooking.

Soon my parents had so much squash that they were having a hard time giving it away. Their friends began avoiding them for fear of having the obligation of cooking squash thrust upon them. Squash began to be piled down the back hallway, looking like rows of latex covered rocks.

“Look on the bright side,” I said to my mom, “now you can make the world’s largest beige center-piece.”

But my mom was more ambitious than I am. She called my uncle, Joe, the Lazy Gourmet. Joe firmly believes that time spent cooking is time wasted, but that eating well is essential and restaurateurs are brigands (I think he might have actually used that word). These three principles have fused into a complicated meld of technique and ethics which make Joe just about the most-efficient cook in the world. His food tastes pretty good too.

Right after I graduated high school Joe tracked me down in the kitchen. “Tonight, for your graduation present I am going to teach you the most important thing you will ever know.” He said solemnly. “I am going to teach you how to cook a delicious three course meal for 8 people in 45 minutes.”

Clearly if any one could show my mom how to cook squash in a way that didn’t involve scourging it in acid it would be Joe.

Joe said that squash comes in two main varieties, summer squash, which is the more tasteful squash and has a soft skin, and winter squash which has a hard shell and less flavor. Regardless of the variety, when choosing squash always go for the smaller ones because the larger they are the less flavorful they will be (there is some sort of complicated volume-taste ratio at work here).

Summer squash, like zucchini or pattypan is easy to cook, as any amateur chef with a bottle of olive oil and a shaker of salt knows. Summer squash are commonly used in stir-fry. Winter squash is harder and more difficult to cook. Winter squash are commonly used in arts and crafts.

Tom gave my mom lots of ideas for cooking squash, some more successful than others. (We didn’t try the ones involving blowtorches or chisels.) Of all of these recipes this one was my favorite. True to Tom’s ideals preparation takes about 8 minutes (slightly more if you don’t want to endanger your fingers). True to my own it contains sugar, because I think a little sugar makes everything better. n