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Produce Profile by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro
Does anyone have a topic for today? Persimmons? Done that. Pomegranates? That too. Cherries? Does it really feel like spring to you, pal? (Well, yep. But you get the point.) Although the temperature readings have been telling us otherwise, it is truly fall and soon to be winter. Which leads us to today's "produce de jour" ...

Winter squashes! The word "winter" in winter squash is somewhat of a misnomer. These hard shelled members of the gourd family are actually grown during the summer, are harvested in the fall, but are so named because they can be stored well into the winter. It was this latter fact that convinced the early colonists to grow lots and eat lots of winter squash.

Let me start with an uncommon squash that is a guaranteed taste hit, the Japanese bred Sweet Dumpling. This is a small squash built for two that is very sweet in taste and creamy in texture. It is shaped like a squatty bell pepper with multicolored ridges. If your local retailer does not carry this variety, ask for it. More often, it is available organically grown but it is well worth finding (and eating!)

Another member of the small is better squash club is the Delicata. Although this cucumber shaped squash has been around since 1894, lots of folks have never tried it. The background color is yellow but the ridges that run lengthwise down the fruit are multicolored like the Sweet Dumpling. The texture is creamy and moist and the flavor runs from a corn to sweet potato flavor.

One of the most common and the earliest bearing is the acorn squash. This small, pointed, deeply ridged squash has a dark green, almost black shell. The yellow orange flesh is sweet but can be a bit watery and stringy. Most often this variety is sliced crosswise into rings and baked. The acorn also comes in other colors-white, yellow or orange. These generally have the same texture, but I find their flavor on the bland side. This is an aside for the acorn squash lovers in the reading crowd ... next time

OK, so with the acorn you know what to expect, but positive flavor surprises do exist. Try some of the others I'm mentioning here, or even some I haven't talked about. But stretch your culinary wings, please.

Another common variety is the banana squash. By looking at it in the display, you'd never know how it got its name because this beast of a vegetable is always cut and wrapped at the retailer. In its natural state, it looks like a big pink banana and can weigh anywhere from five to well over fifty pounds. Just a monster. Last week I saw one on the wholesale market that was over two feet long and weighed 46 pounds! That's a whole lot of meat.

Probably the best bet of the common varieties is the butternut. This tan-in-color, bell-in-shape variety was introduced about 50 years ago, although its heritage dates back more than 100 years ago. The butternut's ancestor was the winter crookneck, which looked exactly like today's example except that it had, well, a crooked neck instead of a straight neck. This crook proved to be too cumbersome in the picking, packing, and shipping game so it was bred out of existence. The tan skin is thin enough to peel with a vegetable peeler. When it is naked, slice it down the center to expose the seed cavity, which is located in the bell or bulbous end. The meat can then be diced or sliced for final preparation, usually baking or steaming.

From the looks of the word counter, 614 and counting, I'm running out of writing room. Next update I'll highlight other varieties and venture into the kitchen more extensively. But for those who may not join us next publication...

Squash cooking 101..

Cut squash in half. Use a serrated knife, cleaver, machete, chains saw whatever it takes. (An easier way is to microwave the squash for a couple of minutes to soften it up.)

Scoop the seeds out of the squash, put both halves back together, and wrap the whole thing in foil. Bake at 350-400 for 45-60minutes.

Check them at 30 minutes. When the squash is squishy, it's done.

Eat plain, dress up with fresh oranges, raisins or nutmeg.

Produce Profilers, if you can bake a potato, you can cook a squash. More of the scoop on squash next Produce Pair update!!