Last season I grew eleven different types of squash – 2020 seemed a good year to go all out.
As lockdown V1 struck I set about furiously ordering seeds, it was the thing to do – everything was scarce and seeds were at a premium.
I stockpiled Black Futsu, Butternut, Galeux d’eysines (a warty squash you can ‘grow’ your name in!), Honey bear, Muscat de provence, Potimarron, Summer sunburst, Vegetable Spaghetti, Winter crown prince, Yugoslavian finger fruit and Winter Festival.
They were all chosen for a culinary reason (which I now forget) but I primarily wanted to grow any squash that wasn’t a butternut.
Butternut squash is fine, but for me it’s just that – fine.
I wanted to try and excite my taste buds with squash, something I normally struggle to achieve. I often find it terribly bland with not much oooomph – I wanted to eat a squash that would contribute to a dish rather than fade into the background.
I planted four seeds of each variety thinking they wouldn’t grow, naturally most of them did (isn’t that always the way – you plant lots and they all come through, you plant one or two and they struggle to thrive!)
The excess seedlings got passed to family and friends and I kept a couple of each variety for the garden.
Before long they were vigorously snaking their way through the fading summer crops and they all grew well.
To give them their due, squash plants are transferred from the greenhouse and out into the garden fairly late in the season, happily growing throughout the beds of beans and corn, when many of the other crops are on the way out.
Turn your back on them for more than a day and you’ll find new growth, a-plenty.
So, when it came to harvesting I had rather a task on my hands. As I gathered in my haul, I proudly got them together for a photoshoot to record this momentously proud moment – the heaviest topped the scales at 15.6kg.
I simultaneously felt intimidated by the scale of my lot and secretly pleased with the variety of the crop.
I started to think about recipes – and that’s when my enthusiasm waned.
Every year, I tell myself I like squash, but it began to dawn on me that I didn’t really – at all.
For me, and I’ll be honest, I find it lacks flavour and the texture is too coarsely soft.
But on I went with gusto, I turned it into a mission to prove myself wrong.
First up, squash and chilli soup – and guess what, even with the spice it just seemed rather insipid.
I thought about curries, stews and soon stopped. Even at this early stage I honestly couldn’t face being disappointed with another plate of squash – and so it was that I found myself contemplating the squash as decorative objects for the winter months.
It was disappointing not to cook with them but I was, unusually, uninspired in the kitchen.
I sat, thinking about the South African gem squash I’d grown the year before, on numerous occasions we’d eaten these stuffed with a creamy, cheesy corn filling. But these small squash lend themselves to a bake a bit more readily than any larger, denser variety.
Then it hit me, I didn’t need to stuff these larger squash with rice or veg – I could use cheese.
Well, more specifically I could use my squash as a vessel for cheese fondue, surely that would counteract the guilty pleasure that is fondue by introducing some vegetable into the equation.
All I can say is that reality lived up to the dream – so much so we had it two days running.
The squash was hollowed out, pre-baked, filled with fondue mix and re-baked.
The hunks of bread that were eagerly dipped into the pot emerged dripping with cheese and soft lumps of nutty squash – surely this was what the squash had been waiting for?
I now look at my display of squash with an approving eye – wistfully looking forward to the many nights of fondue I have stored up for us.
I don’t mean to be too hard on the humble squash, and I’m keen to reinvigorate my culinary experiments with them, so please do point me in the direction of unusual and different squash recipes.
In the meantime, here is my recipe for squash fondue. I used a Crown Prince squash…
Fondue baked and served in a whole squash
- 1 Crown Prince squash (800g - 1kg)
- 200 g cheese (a mix of any of the following: camembert, emmental or gruyere)
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp plain flour
- 50 ml white wine or beer, to taste
- 50 ml double cream
- 1 grating nutmeg
- salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 160C fan
Firstly, slice a lid off the top of the squash. You will use this during the cooking process so make sure it is sliced off in one section and is cut as such a height that once its off you can scoop out the seeds inside the squash.
Scoop the seeds out of the squash (I always keep them and dry them out for potting up).
Season the inside of the squash with salt and pepper, replace the lid and bake in the oven until tender (you can use a skewer to check this). It should take about an hour depending on the size of your squash.
While the squash is baking, mix together the cheeses, garlic, flour and nutmeg.
Once cooked remove the squash from the oven and increase the temperature to 180C fan
Now it's time to fill your squash, layer cheese, white wine or beer and cream alternately ending with cheese.
Replace the lid on the squash and return to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes until the cheese is bubbling.
Serve with crusty sourdough bread or chunks of peppers, lettuce and celery.