Squash on the porch: Welcome, Autumn!
A number of years ago, my friend and fellow Herald-Citizen columnist Susan Ray published a wonderful piece entitled “It’s Fall at the Farmers Market.” She wrote about turnip greens and sweet potatoes and apples and peppers and pears. She also explained how to cook several different varieties of squash. I cut that column out and filed it in my favorite-recipes cookbook, just in case I ever have a hankering to fix something fancier than bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.
Susan also wrote that lovely fall decorations can be created from squash. And that, not recipes, is what this column is about.
First things first. What’s the difference between pumpkins and squash and gourds? Not much. Botanically speaking, they’re all part of the enormous Cucurbitaceae family. All pumpkins are squash, but not all squash are pumpkins. Most varieties of squash, including pumpkins, are edible. I confess I’ve never bought a pumpkin for the purpose of eating it, though I have been known to roast pumpkin seeds after hollowing out a jack-o-lantern. If and when I want to bake pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread—so far I’ve largely managed to resist that urge—I use canned pumpkin. I seldom cook any other kind of winter squash, though perhaps someday I’ll give it a try.
Gourds are edible if you’re really hungry, but they’re typically grown and harvested for ornamental purposes rather than food. Used to be, folks turned gourds into water dippers and bird houses and primitive musical instruments. These days, gourds are grown in countless varieties, including some shaped like snakes and swans, and used not just for simple old-timey creations but for over-the-top fall decorating.
Over-the-top fall decorating was why a carload of friends and I drove all the way to Clarkrange last week in search of these fruits of the vine. (And, yes, they’re technically fruits, not vegetables.) We knew, of course, that squash can be purchased in numerous places right here in Putnam County. But the journey was the destination, so off we went. Our first stop was Ben Anna’s Café in Monterey, where we enjoyed a delightful lunch before heading to Fentress County. On Highway 127, just north of Clarkrange (on the left as you head out of town) is an impressively large pumpkin stand. I don’t know the name of the place or their hours of operation but I do know they have an “honor box” where you can leave cash for your purchases if they’re closed for business. I love that.
The stand has rows and rows of wood pallets piled high with every size, shape and color of pumpkin imaginable. Even better are the huge cardboard boxes filled with squash (or are they gourds?) in such variety it boggles the mind. I filled my shopping basket with smooth squash and warty squash and black, white, green, gold and orange squash. Striped squash and solid squash. I also selected a couple of softball-size pumpkins, three pie pumpkins and one fat round pumpkin just perfect for carving.
I wasn’t sure how I planned to arrange all those pumpkins and squash when I got home, but I was confident I could create something interesting. And, sure enough, I did. A glossy black squash became a crow pecking at a pie pumpkin. A warty white squash that looks like a goose, with traditional wings on its side and smaller angel wings on its back, leans over to steal a kiss from another pie pumpkin. Best of all is a pale pattypan squash that, when set on its flat end and enhanced with eyes and a mouth drawn on with a Sharpie, became a not-so-scary ghost.
A photo of the crow is posted alongside this column on my website (jennieivey.com) and on Facebook. Other Facebook posts show the angel goose and the ghost. Those pictures have received scads of likes and comments and questions.
Because everybody yearns for a little pumpkin-squash-gourd fun when autumn rolls around.
(October 14, 2023)