Someone once asked me, “What is that big funky looking squash with the green stripes? Can you eat those?” Those questions inspired me to write this blog post. The big funky squash in question is the cushaw [kuh-shaw] squash.
Unfortunately, they’re often used in fall decorations, demeaningly placed alongside cute miniature hay bales and smiling scarecrows whose vapid eyes are trained on arriving guests and passersby. This type of embarrassing display has perpetuated the pervading thought that cushaws are ornamental. They’re not. They belong in pies, butters, and soups. Let’s show some respect, folks. After all, we’re talking about a vegetable that’s been eaten since around 3000 BC, when it was first domesticated in Mesoamerica.
This interesting heirloom was also a favorite of Native American cultures because it provided vitamin C throughout the winter months due to its very long “shelf life”. Easy to grow, it’s a very hardy plant, as it is able to withstand high heat and vine borers, which kill other squash plants, including pumpkin.
Though it’s not in imminent danger of becoming extinct, cushaw is grown in small batches, so it’s not always readily available in grocery stores, but you can find them at farmers’ markets. I found mine at the Abingdon Farmers’ Market for $3.00.
Here’s how I usually prepare mine:
With a large chef knife, cut the “neck” off. Then, split the round end in half. Scoop out the innards with a large metal spoon, reserving the seeds for planting or eating later. †
Lightly spray a large baking sheet and place the halves on it, rind side up. Bake at 400 for 45-50 minutes.
Cushaw is fibrous like spaghetti squash, so with a fork, scratch out strands into a large bowl and top with salt, pepper, and butter or make it sweet by adding butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Either way, it’s delicious.
You can also use in pies instead of–or with–pumpkin. Southern cooks have been using cushaw in pies since the late 1800s/early 1900s.
†Cushaws are large! They weigh between 10-20 lbs. and are about 18” long. The round part of the squash is 10” or more in diameter. That being said, it’s more than likely that you’ll want to save half of it for cooking later. Just remove the seeds, cube, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will keep for about a week.
Addendum: Found a good vegan recipe for cushaw pie on Leaning Towards the Sunlight. It’s very easy and very good!