The tale of Elizabeth the washerwoman and the blue Hubbard squash

Blue Hubbard Squash–the size of a young turkey!

This past growing season I’ve had the rewarding opportunity to be part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) run by Deb Lentz and her husband Richard Andres called Tantre Farm. This Michigan farm has been totally organic since 1993 and produces the most amazing food!

As part of our last share of the extended season, Deb set out some blue Hubbard squash for us to try.

These boogers can run up to 40 pounds, but the one I selected ran about eight. Still a challenge. Because the outer shell is hard and brittle, Deb suggested I roast it first at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes to soften it so that it could be broken into manageable pieces and de-seeded.

This I did, but even after the baking, other than making a small nick in the neck of the squash with my big knife, nothing was happening. That squash wasn’t budging!

So I took it outside, raised it above my head, and smashed it on the cement driveway:

Squashed squash, after landing on cement driveway

Voila! A broken squash. Very satisfying. Not hard to break into pieces at all, at this point.

Then I had to take out the innards. The size of the squash is misleading, because unlike a butternut squash, it has a big inner cavity filled with fibers and pumpkin-sized seeds. Kinda of gross, actually, now that I think of it.

Innards of a Hubbard squash

But after all the parts I wasn’t going to use were scraped away, I was left with the shell and the real meat of the squash, ready to go back into the oven. The squash has grown in surface area at this point, and I’ve graduated from a cake pan to a cookie sheet to bake it:

Deseeded blue Hubbard squash, ready for the second oven run

Oops! Not quite ready. According to the Joy of Cooking, my absolute reference for the kitchen, the squash should be cut side down, with a quarter-inch of water and foil covered. Pretend the foil cover is in place:

blue Hubbard squash, cut side down, water added

At this point it goes back in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes. The house should start to feel cozy-warm by now, with the great smell of roasting squash wafting through.

Ding! And out it comes. Let it cool a bit, and the meat is easy to scrape off the shell pieces with a spoon. I dumped it all in the mixer, added some butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and a little maple syrup:

Add butter, cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg and maple syrup…

The end result, a generous quart of squash, filled with fiber, iron, potassium, vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C, and niacin. Plus it tastes good, with a rich, complex flaor! What’s not to like?

Mushed squash puree

I scooped some of it into containers for freezing and ate the rest, right from the bowl. Yum!

blue Hubbard squash, ready for the freezer

Kudos, Deb, for a great recommendation of a new vegetable to try.

And Elizabeth, the washerwoman? That story goes back a ways. According to the legend, a sea captain found a new variety of squash in South America in the late 1800s and gave the seeds to his sister Sarah Martin. She was a shy sort of woman and gave the seeds to her friend Elizabeth Hubbard to try.

Elizabeth in turn passed them on to a man she washed clothes for, a seedsman named James Gregory. They made his fortune. Because of the popularity of the squash, he went on to become the largest seed grower in America by the early 1900s and named the squash in Elizabeth’s honor.

If her friend Sarah had been a litte braver, perhaps we would be celebrating the Martin squash instead of the Hubbard.

If you don’t dare, you may never have a squash named after you!

What about you.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve cooked?
What is your favorite, cook-all-the-time comfort meal?

 

What you need is a good hug

Angel Food Birthday CakeWhen I was a child, I remember sitting on a kitchen stool, watching my mother fix a  cake for my birthday. As my special day falls in winter, it was often snowing outside, but warm and cozy in the kitchen.

By tradition, birthdays were celebrated with an angel food cake, usually a box mix.

Box cake mixes were invented in the late 40s when housewives returned to the kitchens and men returned from the wars with an appetite for home cooking. And nothing said “love” better than home baking. At first the cake mixes just added water, but the need to add eggs and oil invested the homemaker in the process and allowed her own creativity.

Even though my mother’s angel food cake was a box mix, eliminating the need to crack a dozen eggs and separate out just the whites, it wasn’t a simple cake to make. My mother shared with me many years later that she reserved angel foods for special occasions because they were so unpredictable.

The mark of a good cook was not that you made the cake from scratch (this was the era of the post-WWII housewife, after all) but that your cake didn’t fall or sag to one side, a feat accomplished by carefully running a knife through the batter to even it out and cut through any air bubbles in the batter. A special two-piece cake pan reserved just for angel foods was used.

And the oven temperature had to be just so–not too hot, not too cold. We were given strict instructions NOT TO PLAY in the kitchen, for fear the vibrations would cause the cake to fall. We could peek through the small glass window in the front of the stove door, but quietly–NO YELLING.

When the hand-set timer rang, the cake pan was lifted carefully from the oven using long-handled oven mitts and set upside down on an empty liter club soda bottle. This was the same bottle that acquired a cork-lined nozzle on ironing day to sprinkle the clothes that took all afternoon to iron. But that’s a story for another time.

By the time the cake had “set” my mother usually had three little kids–my sister, brother and me waiting for the pan, because after the cake was carefully cut around the center tube and removed, we got to scrape all the gooey crumbs from the tube and bottom of the pan.

Taking the butcher knife, she would carefully cut around the edges of the cake and lift it out, the tube and bottom still attached. Then she’d make a second cut to free the cake and with an expert twist she’d remove the bottom of the cake pan.

angel food cake frostedMy mother set the cake upright on the special footed plate and cut a small square of cardboard to cover the center hole where the tube had been.

She’d mix a simple powdered sugar and milk glaze, always two coats: the first to capture the crumbs, the second to cover the cake. If it were your birthday you got to pick the color of the icing–mine by choice was always pink. Then came the insertion of candles into the plastic holders saved from one birthday cake to the next, and the long wait until the celebration.

It was the only type of cake my mother ever devoted this time and energy to in her busy life. Although she didn’t know it, her mirror neurons were at work. Making something for another person was the truest form of altruism, allowing the creator to share in the joy of giving. It represented both self-expression and that communication-without-words that moms have practiced for thousands of years.

When my mother died and my daughter left to build her own family, I had thought homemade angel food cakes had disappeared from my life. But recently, on a landmark birthday, I felt a surge of nostalgia and determined to make one for myself.

I found a Betty Crocker angel food cake mix at the grocers, lost among a full shelf of brownie mixes. Then I discovered no store in my small town stocked the proper two-piece tube pan I needed for the project. I had to order it on Amazon!

I no longer had a club soda bottle, since I haven’t ironed in years, but a Diet Coke liter bottle, propped carefully on the edge of the pan sufficed. I didn’t bother with the cardboard square in the middle. But the sweet crumbs inside the cake pan stuck to my fingers as I pried them from the inside edge of the tube pan.

A little extra frosting accommodated a sag to one edge.

I closed my eyes and I was back home, getting a hug in the only way my mother knew how.

What about you? Do you have a special cake that says love and hugs?

Thank you, Kimberly Vardeman, for the great angel food cake picture!

Connecting with the physical

 

Légumes

Légumes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a mind girl. Most of my life my brain has directed how I do things, where I go, what I eat, when I sleep. That worked fine when I was twenty, or even thirty. Now, it causes me problems, sometimes.

Having a long weekend with not a lot going on, I tried an experiment. I would pay attention to my physical being, I would listen to what my body was telling me.

The parameters:

1) I’d keep taking the meds the docs prescribed. Always a good idea.

2) I’d switch from coffee to tea. Since this was only for 48 hours, I didn’t want to battle caffeine withdrawal, but at the same time I wanted to be mindful of what I was drinking.

3) To quiet my mind, I planned to do meditation. But in short bursts. Twelve minutes, four times a day. Why twelve? Ten seemed too short and fifteen too long. Hey, it’s my experiment, I get to make the rules. 🙂

4) Yoga and stretching in the morning. That wasn’t new. A walk in the afternoon. That was. I wanted to challenge my belief that “if I didn’t exercise in the morning I never would.”

5) Switch from my journal on the computer to a long-hand version. This would tap into a part of me that my faster brain didn’t always access.

5) And the big one, eat only rice–as much as I wanted–and lots of water.  I wanted to examine my “mental cravings” and concentrate on eating only when I was physically hungry. Having a monotonous , short-term diet seemed a good way to do this. At the end of the weekend, I would to return to a healthy, balanced diet.

I’d keep my normal routine of household chores and weekend errands. A monk I am not.

My discoveries:

1) I didn’t make it the whole two days on the diet. I’d gone to the farmer’s market the Friday before, and there were peaches sitting on the counter, tantalizing me with their aroma. About two-thirds of the way through day two I gave up on rice with salt/pepper, rice with cinnamon, rice with Herbs Provence, and sat down to a delicious baked potato, heirloom tomatoes, organic cucumber slices, and snow peas. But I appreciated the melange of textures and the explosions of wonderful color more since I’d been away from them.

And I find I am more mindful of what I eat later in the day. I found I craved crunchy things. But maybe I can substitute carrot and celery sticks for the chips with cheddar cheese. 🙁 Well, most of the time, anyway.

2) I found I didn’t miss the coffee. I liked the variety of teas–green, Assam, oolong, English Breakfast, Earl Grey. The heating of the water  and doling out of tea leaves was a pain, though. I’m used to my automatic coffee pot. I foresee another gadget on my Christmas list!

3) The Yoga/stretching was valuable. I walked one day and found I skipped the next. But on the day I walked, I slept much better. I might try seeing if I can incorporate more of this into my regular routine.

4) Journaling was so-so. I’ll probably go back to the faster way on the computer. My fingers thanked me.

5) The biggest surprise was the meditation. interspersing meditation throughout the day allowed me to observe the thoughts running through my head and let go of some of them. Early on in the weekend, my thoughts were from unfinished business from the work week. Later on, I would concoct elaborate menus of amazing foods–until I let go of these, too, and just meditated. Last to leave were my writing ideas, including this blog entry: What would I say, how would I say it.

But even in 15 minute bursts, I found after the initial flurry of mental activity, my mind would quiet. I became calmer, happier, more able to slow down time during the rest of the day. I want to incorporate this practice within my regular daily routine.

So…it really didn’t take that much more time than my regular weekend pursuits. Since I wasn’t cooking, I had time left over to meditate. I gave up some reading time to go walking, but I still found time to read later in the evening. I was able to let go of work and enjoy the sound of an early morning serenade by a canyon towhee, and the glimpse of a crescent moon rising.

Will I do this mini-retreat again? I think so. But in addition, I’m going to add some of the things I learned to my every day living patterns. Always a good idea to take care of ourselves!