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The Farmer and the Foodie: The Farmer and the Foodie

Jan./Feb. 2010 California Country magazine

Glen Ikeda, the farmer, and Gwen Schoen, the foodie, discuss winter squash.



Welcome to our new California Country column featuring the farmer and the foodie!

The farmer: Glen Ikeda's parents established a fruit stand in 1970 to sell their own orchard fruits and vegetables. Today, Glen and brother Steve farm 40 acres in Auburn and also manage the family's markets in Auburn and Davis (www.ikedas.com).

The foodie: For Gwen Schoen, food is about anticipating and celebrating the seasons. She has been writing about food in California for 30 years. Her favorite pastime is exploring farmers markets and produce stands.

Send questions or comments to the farmer or the foodie at info@californiacountry.org.

Winter squash
More than just good looks

Winter can be a challenging time of year for a foodie dedicated to eating fresh and locally grown produce. The farmer, however, says there's no challenge to it. Just pick up some winter squash.

Farmer: Most people are familiar with butternut and acorn squash. But in recent years farmers have been bringing back some old varieties such as delicata and kabocha, so there's a much greater selection available to consumers.

Foodie: They're all so beautiful. How do you pick the perfect one?

Farmer: With winter squash, you really don't have to be concerned with ripeness. They're harvested when ready to eat. Just look for one without mold or blemishes. They should feel rock hard and heavy for their size.

Foodie: Sometimes I get carried away and buy too many. Tips?

Farmer: Winter squash can last nearly a year in cold storage. A garage, which is typically dry and cold this time of year, is ideal for the short term.

Foodie: Winter squash can be intimidating because of the hardness. How do you tackle something that seems nearly impossible to cut open?

Farmer: I use a machete.

Foodie: Yikes! Most home cooks don't have a machete in the kitchen mystery drawer. I use a heavy chef's knife. Whack the squash with the blade of the knife to get it started, rock the knife from tip to handle to work it through the squash. If the rocking method doesn't work, try tapping the knife with a wooden kitchen mallet. Better yet, cook the squash whole. Pierce the rind in several places with a sharp knife. Place it in a dish and bake it at 350 until it can be easily pierced with a fork—usually 45 minutes to an hour.

Because winter squash is so beautiful, many people think of it as more of a decoration than a food. They are, however, packed with vitamins A and C, plus they are a good source of iron and riboflavin. As a bonus they are low in calories, at less than 80 per one-cup serving. Besides that, they can add some interesting variety to a winter menu. Here are a few of the most popular varieties:

Acorn

The shell is ribbed and ranges in color from orange to deep green or a mottled combination. Pulp is deep yellow and slightly stringy. The flavor is similar to pumpkin.

 

Butternut

They are usually long with a bulb shape at one end, although small ones can be almost round or tear-drop in shape. The shell color is pale, ranging from slightly pink to beige. The pulp inside is bright orange and smooth. The flavor is similar to a sweet potato, so they are often served drizzled with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. Seeds are in the bulb end.

Hubbard

In grocery stores hubbard squash is often sold in chunks because they grow so large most home cooks wouldn't know how to tackle a whole one. The rind is thick and bumpy and can range in color from slightly gray to bright orange or green. The pulp is pale orange and slightly grainy, so it is often baked or steamed, then mashed or pureed before serving. The flavor is slightly nutty and sweet.

Spaghetti

This unusual squash is typically the size and shape of a soccer ball. The shell color is white to pale yellow. Cook it whole. To serve, slice it in half, remove the seeds in the center, then scrape the pulp with a fork. It comes out in spaghetti-like strings. The flavor is rather bland, so most people prefer to season it with fresh herbs, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or even a pasta sauce.

Turban

These beautiful squash are often used as table decorations. They range in size from a few inches across to over a foot. Shells are often tiered and colors can be yellow, orange or deep green, often striped or dotted. The flavor is delicate, slightly sweet and nutty.

Delicata (pronounced del-ah-KAH-ta)

These are old varieties that have returned to popularity in recent years. They are usually sold when about the size of a softball and can be yellow, ivory or green skinned and might have stripes or spots of color. The pulp is pale yellow and moister than most varieties of winter squash and it is more delicate in texture. They taste as though flavored with honey.

Kabocha (pronounced kah-BOH-chah)

Although this is not a new type of squash, if you do most of your food shopping at the supermarket, you might not be familiar with it. They are usually about the size of a soccer ball and shaped like a pumpkin. The skin is dull, with a bluish-green. Sometimes it is streaked with darker green. The pulp is pale orange and creamy in texture. The flavor is sweet and slightly nutty. Because of the size, they should be cut in half and the seeds removed before cooking.

Carnival

It looks like a cross between acorn and delicata with pale yellow skin splattered with deep green. The size is similar to small acorn squash. Inside you will find pale yellow pulp with a slightly sweet flavor similar to sweet potatoes.

Bowl them over

Farmer: One of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco serves winter squash soup in a hollow acorn squash.

Foodie: It's easy! Here's my recipe. Acorn squash soup

Video

Glen Ikeda describes seasonal produce.


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