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Cabbage »« Buttercup Squash

Butternut Squash

Cucurbita moschata


Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand

Description

With its pear-shaped curves and vibrant golden flesh hiding beneath a pale peachy skin, the butternut pumpkin is a classic symbol of autumn. While it’s technically a squash rather than a pumpkin, all this means in practice is that the skin isn’t as dense and the texture of the flesh is smoother.

Choose a butternut that has a uniform colour over its entire skin and no blemishes. Leave any that have green on them, as this indicates they’ve been harvested too early and won’t have as much flavour. Your butternut should feel heavy, indicating that it has a high moisture content and is therefore fresher, and sound hollow when tapped. Butternuts can keep for several months in a dry, cool place, but don’t leave them in the fridge for any length of time as they’ll spoil.

Butternuts are an excellent source of fibre, vitamin C, and potassium, as well as beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A.

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History

Squash originates from the area of Central America around Mexico. As far back as 3000BC, they were consumed as ‘the apple of God’. Thought to increase fertility, they were often planted outside homes. Early forms of squash contained little flesh, which was bitter and unpalatable anyway, so they were mostly cultivated for their seeds.

Squash didn’t arrive in Europe until the 16th century, when explorer Christopher Columbus brought them back from the New World, and even then it was three hundred years before they were commonly found at mealtimes.

Pumpkins, squash, and other gourds have found their way around the world. In New Zealand, remains of gourds have been found in pre-European Maori sites, and even today, pumpkin and squash are popular additions to hangi.

The butternut is a relatively new addition to the squash family, having been introduced as recently as 1944.

Uses

Butternut is interchangeable in most recipes that call for pumpkin. It has a sweet, buttery, nutty flavour that lends itself particularly well to roasting, however, and roasted butternut can be used in a number of ways, such as in risottos and warm salads. Butternut also makes a nutritious and colourful addition to stews – and few chilly nights can’t be improved by a steaming bowl of homemade pumpkin soup with crusty bread.

Facts

As a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, the squash is a close relative of the courgette, the melon, and the cucumber.

Dollar-for-dollar, the butternut will give you the best value for money on your pumpkin or squash. It has a better ratio of flesh to seed, and the skin is thinner. Its cylindrical shape also makes it easier to cut up.



Cabbage »« Buttercup Squash

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