Thursday, December 27, 2007
Their produce is outstanding in its field
The fields surrounding the hacienda of Beth and George Kendall of Dos Pasos Ranch boasts pumpkins, gourds, and squash that shine through their tangle of prickly leaves like gem stones. Every year I can't wait for the approach of autumn so that I can wander around their barnyard and choose my favorite cucurbits from their vast selection.
Once I get their produce home, I arrange squashy vignettes throughout the house. Their wares are so sculptural and colorful that it is difficult for me to remove them from my tables and counters to cook them. The only consolation is that I always save their seeds–some to roast, some to plant. And, so the cycle continues.
Every fall for the past 5 years, the Kendalls have hosted a squash tasting extravaganza. Dozens of aficionados flock to their home to taste, savor, and finally evaluate the qualities of each chosen variety.
Two years ago we tasted 20 different kinds of squash, but this autumn we narrowed our focus to include only the Hubbard family. They are all nutritious, but some are bland, others richly squashy, stringy, sweet (without adding any sugar or maple syrup), and nutty. Tasting the squash made me feel as though I was time traveling through thousands of years of our agricultural history.
We judged the Green Hubbard, introduced in 1850; The Mini-Green, the New England Blue, introduced in 1909; the Navajo; Sugar; Olive Vert, a French introduction from 1884; the Sibley, Mexican from 1887; the Boston Marrow from Salem, Mass. introduced in1831; Golden Delicious; Guatemala Blue; Tahitian; Fairy; and the Seminole, which dates back to the 1500s. The WINNERS in the best tasting category were Guatemala Blue (my favorite, so sweet tasting it didn't need a drop of sweetener), the Tahitian, and Olive Vert. These three sweethearts won the taste test by a landslide.
Don't be afraid to cook these elegant table decorations, but before cooking the squash, cut them in half and dig out the seeds with a melon baller or ice cream scoop. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, wash the seeds in a colander or sieve to remove strings, pat them dry, spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, drizzle with a good quality extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle on sea salt or a mixture of sea salt, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a pinch of ground cumin. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring the seeds occasionally, and remove them from the oven when they are a light golden color. The seeds are great scattered atop a bowl of squash or tomato soup, eaten as snacks, or included as part of the stuffing for a cooked squash.
Roasted Pumpkin or Squash Soup
2 to 3 cups roasted squash or pumpkin (see directions)
1 large onion, peeled and cut into one inch pieces
4 cups chicken broth
spices (see notes)
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt
Preheat oven to 350. Cut pumpkin or squash in half, clean out seeds and excess fiber, and place cut side down in roasting pan. Roast at 350 degrees about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until soft. Cool slightly. Scoop out cooked flesh and measure for soup. The remainder can be frozen for future use.
Puree onion and roasted squash in a food processor until fine. Add chicken broth and spices and puree until well blended. Pour mixture into a heavy bottomed pan and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add butter, salt, and pepper to taste and stir until well blended. Serve with sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt swirled into each bowl of soup.
Notes: Vary spices to suit your taste. Following are recommendations.
1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg or
1 tsp rosemary and 1/2 tsp thyme or
1 tsp chili powder and 1/2 tsp cumin or
2 tsp curry and fresh cilantro sprigs (added at end)
Recipe courtesy of Beth Kendall, Dos Pasos Ranch
Great Sources for Heirloom Squash Seed
Nichols Garden Nursery, Albany, Oregon
Renee's Garden, Felton, California
Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa
Start dreaming of your spring garden NOW!