I love autumn in the Sacramento Valley. I look forward each year to going up to Apple Hill for apple pie and wandering through the craft stalls on the weekends. But closer to home are pumpkin patches, farmers markets and seasonal produce stands in our own neighborhoods. Too many people associate pumpkin patches with just celebrating Halloween, but there is more to be found. Besides the hay or corn mazes, there are other games and entertainment for the family.
But that is not what draws me to the pumpkin patches. I go for the varietals of Winter Squash. I was raised that pumpkins were for carving into jack-o-lanterns. As a young adult, I learned to cook the pumpkin and make pumpkin pulp for pies, pastries, bread and soups. In my mature years, traveling throughout the world and trying foods from many other cultures, I have learned to admire and enjoy the many varieties of “pumpkin” that are winter squash.
Generally any recipe that calls for one type of winter squash can have a different winter squash substituted in. Yes, there are differences, but once you start experimenting, it is amazing how many recipes and different dishes you can make. Just because the recipe calls for an acorn squash does not mean you have to use an acorn squash. Try a Kabocha. If the recipe calls for butternut squash, try a fairytale pumpkin. Do a search on the Internet for “winter squash varieties” and be amazed. Some varieties are sweeter, like the butternut, fairytale, ghost (white) and sugar pumpkins. Some varieties of winter squash are nuttier, like the acorn or delicata. If a recipe calls for a Kabocha, try a turban squash. Some winter squash have thick skins that you’ll peel off; others are thin and can be eaten.
Winter squash -- yes, including the classic pumpkin -- are great cubed and added to stews, soups and curries. Add chunks to the chicken pot pie. Add cubes of roasted squash into a salad. Puree it for a different pasta sauce, to stuff ravioli, or make a soup. Winter squash can be roasted, braised or steamed. Enjoy it with butter, salt and pepper. But do not boil it, even if you want to serve it mashed like mashed potatoes.
Pumpkin patches, farmers markets and produce stands in the Sacramento area will have many varieties of winter squash available throughout the season. They keep for months (uncut) and add decoration throughout November and December, and are often not cooked until the New Year. So when you go to the pumpkin patch this year, buy a couple of the other winter squash varieties and enjoy adding them to your diet and meals over the next few months.