This time of year, my home-grown fresh-food options are things that store well. Apples, potatoes, beets, winter radishes, and carrots are in the cellar. Garlic, onions, and shallots hang in the pantry. Leeks and kale are still out in the garden. Seeds store well. Last year I let a few Daikon radishes and cole plants go to seed - sprouted, they add a tasty zing to winter meals. But we have one more fresh foods storage spot here at Firesign Farm.
Winter squash, cured in the fall out in the dark garage, spend the winter in crates in the corner of our bedroom. The cellar is too cold for squash, the pantry too warm. But with our only heat the wood stove in the living room, this far corner of the bedroom is perfect. I grow a few different types of winter squash. The difference in sizes and tastes allows for variety in our winter meals. The smaller butternuts are nice microwaved and mashed like sweet potatoes. The acorn types are good baked and stuffed. But then there are the bigger squash. They store the best, lasting until May or June, so there's no hurry to use them. They're so big that once I cook one, we're eating it for days. I try to cook one big squash every week or two. The bumpy Hopi are new - I'm still playing with them. I usually use the pink banana squash for any recipe calling for pumpkin, but last summer a friend gave me a couple of pumpkin plants so this year I have pumpkins to play with too.
To cook a big squash, I split it in half and remove the seeds - saving some to plant, the rest to soak in salt water and then roast. Some have peels so hard I have to beat an old knife through with a hammer. I put the pieces, cavity-side down, in a roasting pan with an inch of water added and bake at 375º for an hour or until the skin can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Once cool enough to handle, I scrape out the flesh and mash to use in a number of different recipes. The pumpkins aren't cooking pumpkins - they're the jack-o-lantern type - so once cooked, are more watery than the Hopi or banana squash. So I glop the mashed pumpkin into a colander set into a bowl and put that in the refrigerator to drain. Harry Potter and the Hogwarts kids are right - pumpkin juice really is quite tasty! It also adds a nice layer of flavor to beef stew.
Pie, custard, muffins, pasta, soup - there are lots of winter dishes I cook with mashed squash, and if I have to I can always freeze it too. But since I just wrote about dehydrating fruits and vegetables for my turn posting at the Simple Green Frugal Co-op I thought I'd share one of my favorite treats to make now, easy to store for later (pumpkin pie leather in the big jar, peach unrolled on the left, plum on the right).
Pumpkin Pie Leather (makes 4 9"x13" leathers)
4 cups cooked, mashed squash or pumpkin (or 1 one-pound can)
⅓ cup honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 can evaporated milk (or 1 c dry milk + 1½ c water)
Put into blender in order given, blend well. Spray rimmed cookie sheets with a thin film of non-stick spray, or line dehydrator trays with plastic wrap or parchment paper (edit added later: or even better, a silicone non-stick mat cut to fit -nice because it's reusuable) held down with a bit of tape on the corners. Spread mixture uniformly ⅛ to ¼ inch thick on prepared trays. Dry 8-10 hours at 115º, or until leather will pull away from the tray. Roll up and store in a cool, dark, dry place. Will keep indefinitely.