Cutting through a winter squash's skin could be a new Olympic sport—the thick membrane is designed to protect and preserve the nutritious flesh, and getting past it requires a certain degree of physical prowess. It also requires a hefty, well-honed knife that is absolutely sharp.
A Chinese cleaver is perhaps the best tool, as its weight distribution helps push through the skin. Place the squash on your cutting surface, then give a short but controlled whack into the flesh. Once the cleaver is lodged snugly part way into the squash, lift up the whole unit, and then smash it down little by little onto a cutting board until the squash is cut all the way through.
Needless to say, you should be very careful whenever you are cutting into something that presents resistance. A sharp tool, a secure cutting board and standing at a height comfortable to reach the cutting surface are all important. Standard kitchen counters are not the optimum height for all people, so a step stool or elevated cutting board can make all the difference, depending on your own height. And, when you are standing and working comfortably, the risk of cutting yourself, as well as fatigue and poor posture, are significantly lessened.
Squash is one of the Americas' greatest food gifts. Native to the New World, squash seeds have been found in Mexico dating back to 5500 BC and with the Europeans' arrival, spread rapidly to every other continent.
Squash, corn and beans formed the holy trinity of the Native Americans' diet. True to their way of life, the Native Americans used every part of the squash: seeds were toasted, skins and flesh dried for the winter, and flowers used whole, but it was not until the Pilgrims arrived that squash was first cooked before eating.
The original name "askutasquash" translates from its Narrgansett Indian to mean "a green thing that is eaten raw." Summer squash have thin edible skins, soft seeds and tender flesh that cooks quickly or can be served raw in a salad. Winter squash is thick skinned, with tough seeds and hard flesh that requires cooking to tenderize it. with today's emphasis on antioxidants and cancer-preventing vitamins, winter squashes are an especially good pick for your diet. They are rich in beta-carotene, iron, riboflavin and fiber.
Squash has at times been maligned as boring or dull, when in reality it is more like an artists's canvas—ready to be transformed. For a rich collection of exciting squash recipes, consult "Squash: A Country Garden Cookbook" by Regina Schrambling (Collins Publishers, San Francisco), with lush photographs by Deborah Jones (c. 1994).
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007