In my last post, I was excited about how soon fall would be here. While I love the transition to autumn’s new sights, sounds, and smells, I particularly love the tastes. Summer and spring taste warm and bright to me, but fall flavors have a earthy quality that is as comforting as it is filling. One of my favorite flavors is butternut squash. Warm, sweet, and full of fiber, potassium and carotene, butternut squash is a fall flavor you can’t afford to miss.
History of Butternut Squash
The squash itself is an ancient food source eaten by the Native Americans. They used it as one of their “three sister” plants, where the plant’s job was to shade out weeds around corn and bean seedlings. Squash eventually made its way to the plates of Europeans, and became further domesticated into new varieties as it traveled. While it’s well know to cooks around the globe, the butternut squash is a recent phenomenon.
In the mid 1940’s Charles Leggett experimented with crossing Gooseneck Squash with Hubbard Squash because he wanted a vegetable that would be easy to transport and cook. While he never received official credit for his creation, the squash made its way around the world. Some places even use it interchangeably with pumpkin!
Butternut squash is vulnerable to cold, so it should only be planted after you’re sure that the last frost has passed. You may want to start seeds indoors if you live in colder climates. Once the ground reaches at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you can plant 4-6 seeds in a mound of soil about a foot and half tall. Once seedlings are established, thin to three seedlings per hill. The plant should mature in 120 days or so. Butternut squash likes fertile, moist, well drained soil. When properly cared for, vines can grow up to 15 feet and can produce up to 20 squashes.
Pest and Diseases
Squash beetles, and cucumber beetles are the three insects that usually pose a danger to butternut squash. If your plants start to look peakish, check for beetles on the leaves. Pull off any you find and apply a treatment of insect deterring spray. Like other squash varieties, butternut squash is susceptible to powdery mildew, wilt, or scab. Look for dark discolorations or a whitish powdery substance on the leaves. If you plant has one of these diseases, its best to trim and destroy affected foliage and replant where necessary. Prevent diseases by planting resistant cultivars and practicing crop rotation to keep your plants healthy.
Your squash is ready to harvest when it stops growing and turns a uniform orange-tan color. The squash’s stem also fades from green to brown, and the skin resists being punctured when pressed with a fingernail.
To cook your squash, cut it lengthwise, place it skin side up in a baking dish with a little water and place it in an oven to cook for 40 minutes in 400 degrees Fahrenheit or until it tender. The cooked squash is delicious by itself with butter and salt, or added to soups.
Do you have a favorite butternut squash recipe? Let me know in the comments.