Last year we decided to explore the world of giant edible cucurbita maxima. Relatives to pumpkins, winter squash differ in that their shells are rock hard, able to withstand months of storage.
That’s why we resorted to a method of opening them closely related to the primitive form of punkin chunkin or tossing pumpkins as far as one’s bursitis will allow. I say primitive because today the event of flying pumpkins is sophisticated to the umph degree.
Formal and informal competitions exist in just about every state. It is a state of wild, boisterous crowds, men who are as proud of their machines as anyone at Nascar. From sling-shots to pneumatic air cannons, pumpkins shoot into the sky day and night. Tom’s Corn Maze in Germantown, Ohio, even paints the orbs iridescent orange to glow in the early night darkness. Pretty impressive as flying objects go.
But I digress. Our objects of magnitude included a 20-pound football-shaped blue Hubbard, a 2-foot long Pink Banana and a 13-pound Cushaw with a bottom bowl measurement of 28 inches. They lay nestled among 16 average to large butternut squash. Everyone who entered the kitchen stopped and stared, asking, “What’s going on here?” I answered, “My field of dreams.”
Passing up recommendations of hatchets, sledge hammer and chisel, electric knives and even a chain saw, we opted for the easy, safe way recommended by the Big Apple Farm in Wrentham, Massachusetts.
Place the object in a clean large trash bag. Tie the end shut and drop it on the floor. It may take two or three drops especially if you are short (you could stand on a chair but a 20-pound blue Hubbard tends to be unwieldy the higher it goes).
Goals in the kitchen chunkin adventure are two-fold. Open the squash with minimum mess and have pieces small enough to handle easily when baked. After cooking, the squash is spooned from the shell pieces. It can be mashed and buttered. Pureed, it will be a good substitute for canned pumpkin. It can be canned or frozen for later use in soups, soufflé, butters, whatever you use pumpkin for, squash will do.
A legend goes back to the sea – Marblehead, Massachusetts, and a certain Captain Knott Martin, who supposedly brought Hubbard squash seeds to the states.
His neighbor, Elizabeth Hubbard, brought the huge squash to the attention of her neighbor, James Gregory, a seed trader. He in turn introduced it to the market as Hubbard’s squash.
By the time we got done chunkin' the big lumpy blue and the long, splotched pink and the tall creamy-striped squashes, there were numerous versions of what happened in the kitchen when we decided to throw caution to the wind and toss them to the floor.
Almost immediately after the 20-pound blue football-shaped Hubbard leaves the hands in its downward spiral, excitement is replaced by an intense feeling of messiness to come.
Not that it comes right away with the first drop. At best, a Hubbard splits in two. Numerous drops are required to split it into manageable pieces.
Thanks goodness we took the advice to put it in a trash bag parachute. We insured our flying orb with double bagging, hopeful that the parachute would never open.
Half an hour later our worst fears realized, seeds and stringy goop from the center of our behemoth burst forth through the toughest of two-ply plastic times two. Sitting in utter disbelief, one comes to grip with the silliness of it all and struggles to clean up through tears of laughter.
Processing was easy. Scrape off the seeds and major stringy portions. Place pieces in a shallow pan. Bake at 400 F for 30 to 40 minutes. Cool, scoop out the flesh and discard the hard shell. Seeds can be roasted for a tasty treat.
The flesh is now ready for further cooking to break down fibers and produce a creamy consistency.
This can be done by baking in a covered roaster for an hour at 350 F or on low for 8 hours in a slow cooker. Using the slow cooker, start it with a little water, stir every hour to ensure thorough cooking.
To reduce moisture, replace pot lid with a splatter screen the last couple of hours. Serve it hot, with butter, white or brown sugar. Freeze or can the rest for later use.
Glazed Hubbard Squash
Yields 8 servings.
4 cups cooked, mashed squash
1/3 cup butter, melted
Dash of salt
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
In casserole dish, combine squash, butter and salt. Cover and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Remove cover. Sprinkle sugar over top. Bake uncovered for another 15 minutes, or until sugar is melted and bubbly.
4 cups milk
1/4 cup sliced onion
1 small bay leaf, optional
2 1/2 cups mashed, cooked squash
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
Dash of cayenne pepper, optional
Bring milk, onion, bay leaf to boil, remove from heat immediately. Let sit for a few minutes.
Strain milk, discarding onion/bay leaf. Stir milk into squash.
In large saucepan, melt butter; add flour, both salts and cayenne pepper. Blend well. Add milk/squash slowly. Stir constantly over low heat, cooking about 5 minutes or until thoroughly hot.
If desired, eliminate bay leaf. Leave onion in milk; this eliminates the straining step and adds more flavor to soup. Garnishes can include bacon bits, minced chives or croutons.
Brown Sugar-Pecan Squash Custard
2 cups cooked, mashed squash
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Mix together squash, milk, eggs and cinnamon. Pour into deep Pyrex pie plate. Sprinkle top with brown sugar and nuts. Place pie plate in larger pan with hot water an inch deep in larger pan.