ersatile squash comes in many shapes and sizes

ersatile squash comes in many shapes and sizes

‘Tis the season for sweaters, family gatherings, hot chocolate and jigsaw puzzles; for raking and holiday decorations lighting up the night; and — drum roll, please — for squash, the food, not the game.

“I already know all I need to know about squash,” you may say. But do you? These nutritional blockbusters come in all shapes, sizes and colors with more varieties than you could, well, shake a squash at.

The word squash comes from the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash, which means “eaten raw or uncooked.” Squash is not a vegetable; it’s actually a fruit because it flowers and has seeds.

According to Annie Yoder, Local Roots Market & Cafe social media and marketing coordinator, a variety of winter squash is grown in Wayne and Holmes counties.

“People really like keeping an eye out for local favorites,” Yoder said. “We have butternut squash, pie pumpkins, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, delicata and honeynut squash.”

The varieties in stock vary from day to day.

No matter the variety, these versatile fruits provide myriad health benefits. They are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals including vitamins C, B6 and A, as well as beta-carotene, magnesium, calcium and iron.

Known for starring in both sweet and savory dishes, keep in mind adding sugar reduces the health benefits.

It’s easy to add squash to a variety of recipes. For example, it can be roasted and pureed to make the perfect fall or winter soup. Squash can be added as a topping to pizza or tossed into a stir-fry. It makes a nice addition to chili. Acorn squash may be substituted for pumpkin for a favorite pie, spaghetti squash substitutes for noodles in many pasta dishes, and butternut squash could even make an appearance in a smoothie when blended with milk, dates and cinnamon.

One of the oldest known crops, squash may date back 10,000 years. It’s likely squash often served as containers or utensils with their hard shells.

While Native Americans grew many varieties of squash, the early Virginia and New England settlers were unimpressed until they had to survive the harsh winter. The 1796 cookbook, American cookery, contains one of the first recipes for pumpkin pie.

Another great thing about squash is it generally keeps a lot longer than other produce and can sit on the counter for a while, Yoder said.

And it’s not just this fruit — that we all thought was a vegetable — that is so delicious and nutritious. The blossoms and stems are edible on many squash, as well as the seeds.

“Particularly, the butternut, pumpkin and acorn squash (seeds) can be so good roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt and spices for a tasty snack,” Yoder said. “My last thought on squash is it’s so versatile. Even some of the squashes we think of as savory, like butternut, can be great in sweet dishes like pies as well. I’ve made one with butternut before, and it created such a smooth, creamy texture.

“I would love to encourage folks to be creative, find locally sourced squashes to support our local farmers and have fun.”