Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cushaw for the Best Pumpkin Pies!

Cushaw is a variety of winter squash that makes the very best pumpkin pies! (In fact the canned pumpkin in the grocery stores is either just cushaw, or a mix of various winter squash including cushaw.) Note: I wrote about cushaw last year here, too.

I don't grow my own cushaw anymore, even though they keep very well over the winter in a cool, dry space like a root cellar. Mainly I don't grow them because they are too big for one person to eat, unless I am processing pumpkin for holiday recipes. However, I just picked up a couple of 10-12 pound cushaws at the farmer's market last Saturday for only $3 each. I got over 10+ cups of purée out of just one cushaw, the equivalent of 5 or more jumbo cans of pumpkin ($2.99 here) from the supermarket.

I cut them in half, removed the strings and seeds from the cavity, and roasted them cut-side down in a 350ºF oven for about an hour and a half, until the thick neck pierced easily with a fork. (I lightly oiled the baking pan, and added enough water to a depth of almost half an inch... once the pan was in the oven.)

After the baked squash was cool enough to peel, I cubed it and ran it through a food mill. In retrospect, I could have skipped this step as these squash were not stringy at all.

Once puréed, I set some aside (in 2 cup amounts) to freeze for pies, or maybe some Pumpkin Pull-Apart Bread.

The rest of the first cushaw I roasted went into the crockpot to spice up and cook down for some Cushaw Butter. Even though I put it in canning jars, I did NOT can it. The USDA now strongly recommends against even pressure canning something extra-thick like pear or pumpkin butter because the heat may not penetrate to the center to guarantee safety.

I used local raw honey as the sweetener, and since honey is antimicrobial, it should keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. (Most of mine will be given away over the next few days.)

While I was roasting the squash, I removed all the good seeds from the stringy innards, discarded the flat immature seeds, and rinsed them well to remove any remaining flesh. Then I soaked the seeds several hours in salted water, getting them ready to roast as snack foods. (Soaking the seeds helps assure the nutmeat inside the shell gets a little salt.)

I dry the seeds after soaking... so the surface is dry enough to coat with olive oil. Lightly oil a cookie sheet, toss the seeds to coat evenly, add some sea salt, and roast in a 325ºF oven until toasted (about 25 minutes, depends on the oven) checking and stirring often after 10 minutes. 

You can add a variety of herbs or spices to the seeds before roasting. Try some ground chili pepper or ground smoked pepper if you like them spicy, or some garden herbs like sage and thyme... or some cinnamon and brown sugar for someone with a sweet tooth. Experiment and be creative!

Roasted pumpkin seeds will keep a couple of weeks stored in an airtight container. Be sure to smell any seeds or nuts before eating those you store, as the oils can go rancid quickly.

All together, my $6 spent on cushaws gave me 12 cups of purée to freeze (will make 6 generous pies or other desserts like pumpkin custard or pumpkin bread), 10 pints of pumpkin butter, and a bowl full of toasted pumpkin seeds. How's that for stretching food dollars? Plus, I know exactly what is in my pumpkin products... no chemical additives, just real food made with love.

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