ELEVEN TONS – that’s a lot to be thankful for!

Bill Clark of Clark Farm and Maple Country Kitchen in Pawlet, VT

Bill Clark, gleaning champion and owner of Clark Farm and Maple Country Kitchen in Pawlet, VT.

By Bill Clark

At last!  After five years of trying and almost making it, this season RAFFL’s Glean Team has collected over 22,000 pounds (Eleven tons… and counting!) of fresh fruits and vegetables.  These nutritious foods from area farms have been distributed to 19 different places around the county providing food to 2,500 people in need.

This special activity all started on a damp, cool April morning in 2009.  We’ve been doing Farmers Markets for many years.  Our biggest market day is Saturday in Rutland City.  Occasionally, leftovers at day’s end were left at a food pantry.  However, not many are open on Saturdays and most don’t have much refrigeration for fresh veggies and fruit.  So when we received a letter from a local agency that cares for women and children letting us know that it would mean so much to have fresh veggies for the growing children in need we didn’t need to think too hard about it.  Their simple request was that we grow an extra row of food, just for them.  This request was so simple, we knew we would say yes!

We farmers have untold problems every day; weather extremes, high cost of fuel, equipment, taxes, pests and more.  Growing an extra row sounded like the easiest thing that we’d ever been asked to do.  We emphatically said “Yes!”  In fact, we’ve raised an acre of crops each year since 2009 specifically for donation as a result of that request.

It’s one thing to grow the extra food.  Harvest and distribution are another matter.  Fortunately, in 2004 a group of concerned farmers, consumers and organizations came together to try to turn declining agriculture around into a new direction.  They organized into a group known as the “Rutland Area Farm and Food Link” (RAFFL).  Produce had to get from the farmers to the food shelves.  RAFFL had the means, the vision, and the willpower to make it happen.

Meadow Squier was the first person to work for RAFFL’s Glean Team.  As a summer internship, she coordinated and handled the project. She picked up, weighed and catalogued all produce from the Saturday Farmers Market.  With the generosity of Thomas Dairy, the food was stored until it would be delivered on Monday.  Produce was gathered from the Poultney Market on Thursday as well.  Green Mountain College has been a strong partner providing students to help out, cold storage, and use of their kitchen to process food that was frozen for later distribution during the winter.

We started taking in produce in early June and by November had acquired 10,000 pounds during a wet, cold summer with a very poor growing season.  Challenging circumstances to begin with but amazing what was accomplished for very little money.  No farmers had to buy or rent more land or equipment. They didn’t need to pay for extra labor.  Thomas Dairy didn’t have to add more coolers.   All the components of this project were here right under our noses all the time.  It just needed a committed organization to make all of the connections.

As RAFFL celebrates its tenth anniversary of bringing Rutland County agriculture and consumers together, it is interesting to look back and see how it got its start.  For years Rutland County had been a major dairy county.  However, since the 1960’s many of its hill farms were slowly being bought up by flatlanders.  And so it was on an April morning in 2004 my wife, Sue, needed some things in Rutland.  I just happened to notice in the paper that UVM Extension had scheduled a meeting in their conference room where someone would be talking about how to best shop at a farmers market.  Being that we were large market vendors for over 25 years at that point, I was curious about what might be said, so I went to the meeting.  It didn’t turn out to be what I thought it would be.  Rather, over twenty people were there, most of whom I didn’t know.  It turned out to be a discussion about Rutland’s declining agriculture and what, if anything, could be done to change that.  Folks there represented a variety of entities in Rutland County as well as market growers and maybe a few consumers.  There was representation from the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, the Vermont Land Trust, Poultney-Mettowee Natural Resource Conservation District, Green Mountain College, UVM Extension and probably others.

After two hours of discussion, the idea was born to form a new organization, RAFFL.  Many lofty ideas were put forth about what it might accomplish.  Some might have been pie in the sky.  After all, it was starting out with no money.  No money, but plenty of determination.  (It seems that’s the one element in Rutland that gets things done.)  A board of directors was set up, Rutland Regional Planning Commission secured a grant, and RAFFL was born.  In Tara Kelly’s hands as the director, this organization has been making a difference.

There is not room here to tell RAFFL’s amazing story of how it evolved over the past ten years.  Suffice to say, that because of RAFFL, Rutland county has a new, dynamic, growing agriculture that has expanded farmers markets in their scope including the start-up of the 26 week winter farmers market in Rutland which is the largest in the state.  RAFFL has been expanding opportunities and education for farmers, especially the young ones just getting started.  All while operating innovative programs that connect this community to its farmers and vice versa.

Each year the Glean Team effort has grown with many local farmers donating their high quality produce.  This season’s eleven plus tons of fresh grown, top quality, local fruits and veggies are making a difference in so many people’s lives who otherwise could not afford it. We are proud to be a part of this effort.  In Wells, Our Neighbors Table (our local food pantry) is a good example of a food pantry set up and committed to providing this fresh produce.  They have both refrigerator and freezer storage.  They do an excellent job.

With the growing world food shortage and in the US the continuing drought in California, we in Vermont need to rapidly expand growing our own food.  As I look back at the Glean Team project, it shows how much can be accomplished when people work together with very little money involved.  It is a shadow of the same kind of effort that every year goes into the Gift of Life Marathon.  Some people still call Rutland the “Rut”.  Well, if Rutland is a “Rut” than it’s an awful good “Rut” to be in!  The spirit of Rutland is strong!

Bill and Sue Clark operate Clark Farm and Maple Country Kitchen in Pawlet, VT.  They have been Rutland Downtown Market vendors for the past 38 years.  Bill is also past president of the Vermont Farmers Market. He can be reached at 325-3203 or by FAX 325-2291.

It’s Soup Time

broccoli soup

It’s the perfect time of year to incorporate more soups into your cooking rotation. Steve Peters/photo

 

By Steve Peters

The leaves are down and the skies are grey. A good snowfall is inevitable. There are many reasons not to like this time of year, but for me, there’s one very good one reason to be a fan – the food. Alright, so maybe food weighs heavily in my opinion of many things in life, but the warmth and heartiness of the dishes I cook in winter is pure comfort; it’s how I take control of the often times depressing environment in which I’m surrounded. Because one can only look at mounds of dirty snow for so long without going crazy.

Soup is one of the easiest, most reliable foods I cook in my kitchen during these days. At the base of these soups are the hearty foods of our local farms – root vegetables, winter squashes, brassicas, apples, greens like kale, and fresh meats such as chicken and pork. At times, I’ll put to use vegetables like corn and peas that I bought in bulk or grew in my garden this past summer and froze. And a jar of tomatoes that I canned, the one truly invaluable food I find worth canning, is always at hand.

Here are three soups I’ll be making all winter long. I love to make a big pot and enjoy it for several days after.

Leek and Potato Soup

This is such a simple, yet classic, soup that everyone should know how to make. Why? Because it’s just equal parts cleaned and chopped leeks and potatoes. While broth will add flavor, you can just cover with water, bring to a boil and cook until tender and it’s still delicious. In other words, you don’t really even need this recipe.

3 cups sliced leeks (the white and tender greens)

3 cups peeled and roughly chopped baking potatoes

6 cups water or broth

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt (optional)

1 small bunch of thyme (optional)

A splash of cream or milk (optional)

In a stockpot combine the leeks, potatoes, salt, water/broth, and thyme, if using. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Although optional, at this point I like to puree the soup with a hand blender and, also optional, pour in a quick splash of cream or milk. Before serving, you could top with a spoonful of sour cream or yogurt, some thyme or chives would be nice too.

Butternut Squash, Apple and Sage Soup

If you ask me, this soup is the perfect pairing of fall flavors. Save yourself some time by roasting the squash a few days in advance. Instead of butternut, try pumpkin, acorn, delicata, hubbard or your favorite variety.

4 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium )
8-10 sage leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
splash of maple syrup

salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
splash of heavy cream (optional)
1 large apple, finely diced

Preheat oven to 425 F. Halve each butternut squash and scoop out the seeds. Sprinkle with sage, butter maple syrup, salt and pepper. Roast 45 minutes to an hour, or until the squash is tender. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly and then scoop out flesh.

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pot. Add in the shallot and sauté over medium-low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Add in the squash, chicken stock, apple cider, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook 30 minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender. Return to pot, taste and adjust seasonings. At the last minute, stir in cream and serve garnished with diced apple, fried sage leaves, or a spoonful of yogurt, swirled.

Curried Root Vegetables Soup

Poor celeriac. It’s not pretty and honestly is a bit of a pain to peel. I suggest just using a knife. But it is certainly worth the effort and the highlight of this soup. Depending on the curry powder you use, the result can be sweet and mild or a bit spicy, however you prefer.

4 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon curry powder

1-2 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 pounds celery root, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 cups water

4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup milk

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Heat the butter in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and then add the onion. Sauté until it begins to soften, then add the garlic and continue cooking another 3-5 minutes. Add the curry powder, cumin, and a pinch of salt and pepper and stir. Cook until the spices are fragrant, about a minute more.

Add the celery root, carrots, potatoes, water and stock and bring to a boil, then simmer until everything is tender, about 20 minutes.

After cooling slightly, use an immersion blender and puree until smooth. Return soup to the pot and stir in milk. Taste, season with salt and pepper, and serve topped with parsley.

Steve Peters is the Communications Manager and Food Education Specialist at RAFFL. You can reach him at steve@rutlandfarmandfood.org.

Milk is now available at the Rutland and Dorset Winter Farmers Markets!

Rich Larson selling milk at the farmers market. Larson Farm/photo

Rich Larson selling milk at the farmers market. Larson Farm/photo

By Tara Kelly

Photo Caption:  Rich Larson selling milk at the farmers market

For years people living in Rutland have had to drive as far as Castleton or Tinmouth to buy their milk.  Why? If a person wanted to follow family tradition and/or had a preference for farm fresh (raw and unpasteurized) milk – the only legal way they could get that milk was to go to a farm that sold it.

Over the past decade, the state of Vermont has undergone a major shift in how it regulates the sale of raw milk.  Previous to now, sales have been hampered in part by rules that were outdated and restricted of farm sales and deliveries.  But thanks to advocacy groups such as Rural Vermont, things have started to change.

New legislation that went into effect on July 1, 2014 now allows people to get farm fresh milk at farmers markets.  There are a few tricks / small hoops to jump through along the way.  But the convenience provided by this service will be a big improvement for those who once trekked out to a farm to pick it up directly.

Here’s how it works.  A person interested in purchasing milk for pick up at a farmers market will need to pay a visit to the farm from which they intend to purchase.  Customers then need to pre-order the milk for pick up at the market – no buying on the spot. These two requirements satisfy the state’s intent that a purchaser of raw milk be fully informed about the conditions of the farm from which they are purchasing the milk.  The reason for this “precaution” is that for every person who swears by the high nutrition content and quality of farm fresh milk, another person is convinced that unpasteurized milk is potentially harmful.  The legislation has strived to find a balance between these opposing viewpoints.

Currently, thanks to Larson Farm in Wells, customers can get their milk at Rutland’s Winter Farmers Market on Saturdays or Dorset’s Winter Farmers Market on Sundays.  Larson Farm, run by Cynthia and Rich Larson, is a family operated farm with a small herd of Jersey dairy cows.  A visitor will find a well-kept barn powered by solar panels and a clear concern for keeping the milk clean and delicious.  Aside from the stunning views on their property, customers will also find a variety of other farm fresh products such as eggs and meat available.

“The new law pushed forward by Rural Vermont, is a major move toward more consumer choice,” notes Rich Larson.  “Our raw milk is nutritious and delicious with all the good enzymes that assist in digestion.  Informed, health-conscious people are catching on to the benefits of unpasteurized milk, and now it is much more convenient to pick it up at the local farmers market.”

Rich and Cynthia, as well as their daughter Mercy, are passionate about bringing a high quality product to customers.  They will be personally attending the markets, meeting their customers, and sharing information about their farm.

Our family lives within a 15 minute drive of this farm, so we’ve been enjoying their milk for years. Our kids drink it regularly (and that of Thomas Dairy, which we also buy) and I enjoy it in my morning coffee on a daily basis.

I already buy 2 gallons a week, but I may need to start getting more.  After attending the Fermentation Festival RAFFL co-sponsored this past weekend, I now have a simple recipe for making yogurt that was shared by Leslie Silver and Michael Beattie who have been making yogurt at their home for years.  They made it seem so easy.  I can’t wait to give it a try!

Needed: milk, thermometer, yogurt culture (either from a live culture yogurt or a starter packet)

Heat milk to 180°F. Let the milk cool to 116°F (Leslie and Michael did this by putting the pan in an ice bath for a couple of minutes). Pour milk into a glass jar. Add starter (either a few tablespoons of live-cultured yogurt or a packet of starter that can be purchased). Keep covered and at 116°F for at least 6 hours (Leslie and Michael did this by putting the jar into a small cooler along with a couple of bottles of very hot water and then setting the cooler aside).

Yogurt made this way is not too thick. If thicker yogurt is desired, a thickener such as dry powdered milk, could be added as milk is heating in the first step.

Tara Kelly is the Executive Director for Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL). 

The Vermont Fermentation Festival Returns

cabbage

By Dan Colton

Green Mountain College will host the second Vermont Fermentation Festival in Poultney on Saturday, Nov. 1 from 9:30am until 4pm.

The Vermont Fermentation Fest is a celebration of the many varieties of fermented foods and the nutritional benefits they have to offer.  Sauerkraut, mead, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha are just some examples of the variety the Fermentation Fest will feature.

Vendors of fermented foods, such as Real Pickles, Flack Family Farm, Chrysalis Cultures,  Rhapsody Natural Foods, Groennfell Meadery, Katalyst Kombucha, and Plymouth Cheese, will be on site offering  attendees both the opportunity to sample and purchase goods.

Tickets for the event are available for $10 at the door, for $5 with a student I.D., and free for Green Mountain College students.

Fermentation Fest coordinator Leslie Silver grew up loving the kosher dill fermented pickles her father made. “As an adult I began to try and figure out how to make them.  There was never a recipe, it was trial and error.” Then years later, Silver attended a sauerkraut fermentation workshop. “I didn’t think I liked sauerkraut,” she admits, “but I kept hearing the health benefits of fresh kraut so I tried making it.  It was a whole different food!   I became a convert and began making my own sauerkraut.   I realized there was a way of preparing foods that tastes different when it’s not canned.  Learning to make my own pickles and fermented vegetables allows me to preserve my summer harvest way into the winter, which is really important to me.”

Last year, more than 200 visitors attended Fermentation Fest. “We’re really excited about it, says coordinator Jordan Perkins. We’ve got a lot of diversity as far as vendors and workshops go- probably more diversity than last year.  There are some pretty cool workshops going on as well, like mead making and learning to make dosas, a south-Indian fermented pancake and unusual fermented vegetables.

For those of you wanting to get started with fermentation, this is the perfect opportunity. Those of you who have already gotten into the “culture”, it’s a great place to learn some new recipes and new foods to experiment with

Techniques to prepare preserved items will be hot among the topics discussed for the panel of guests, which include Louise Frazier, one of the pioneers in the area of promoting and teaching about lacto-fermentation, cookbook authors Andrea Chesman and Leda Scheintaub, Beki Auclair of VT Fermentation Adventures, Christina Cunningham, health coach and owner of Chrysalis Cultures, Ricky from Groennfell Meadery and more.

“Fermentation of foods often enhances nutrition,” Perkins continues. “It not only preserves nutrient content, it also enriches it as vitamins are created during the fermentation process. Eating live cultured foods helps to play an important role in intestinal health, adding probiotic bacteria into the digestive system which then helps the immune system.”

The event is organized by RAFFL and Green Mountain College, with the support of Real Pickles, Flack Family Farm, and Rhapsody Natural Foods.

Whether you’re interested in the second annual Vermont Fermentation Festival for the food, the discussions, or both, it will be a good way to get out and have some fun.

Dan Colton is a beginning farmer and journalism student concerned with the security of healthy foods for everyone.

 

 

 

 

Small Farmer Meets Big Ag

An Illinois combine harvester equipped with GPS, air conditioning, and under seat refrigerator.

An Illinois combine harvester equipped with GPS, air conditioning, and under seat refrigerator.

By Kimberly Griffin

Here in the Northeast, fall is associated with crisp winds and colorful leaves. I find myself living in awe of these and other fall trademarks, and I hope that never wears. In August, I traveled to Illinois to be with my father’s family. As my husband and I biked down miles of country roads with nothing but corn and soy bean fields in sight, we remarked how differently each season must look and feel there, as compared to our own mountainous, lush, colorful environment. While we tromp through leaves on chilly hikes or as I pull vibrant green leeks and kale or equally vibrant carrots or squashes from the garden, we experience a very different fall in Vermont.

While there, we visited with a farmer friend and he and I eagerly compared practices. We both call ourselves farmers, yet our lives are such stark contrasts, and each of us reveled in the telling of the other. He produces two types of crops – corn and soy beans – on roughly one thousand acres. At College of St Joseph, I produce 11 different crops on roughly 1/6th of one acre (and growing). His combine (pictured above) is equipped with a GPS system, air conditioning, and a small under-seat refrigerator. I don’t use a tractor, much less a combine. By and large, the crops he produces cannot be eaten by humans, at least not in their raw form; they are processed into flours and meals, syrups and oils. By and large, the crops I produce are chopped or sliced, sautéed or baked and then eaten, typically within seven days of harvest. I practice organic practices, though not certified. He grows, and supports the production of, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), though not in every field.

The longer we talked, the more in awe we were of each other.  Here I am, the “green, hippie, idealist, crunchy…. Vermonter”, and there he is the “evil, polluting, soil-destroying, big-ag… Mid-Western farmer” and we couldn’t be getting along better. Anecdotes not counted, there are many differences between us. He is in his mid-fifties, which according to the 2014 ag census, puts him close to where today’s American farmer averages, 58. I am in my thirties, representing only 6% of the farming population. 86% of the “primary operators” listed in the census are men, 14% are women.

Zoom out a bit, and we can compare production scales. Granted, I am not a production farmer, the food grown at CSJ has many purposes; however, we are not selling at market or to any major wholesale accounts. But, we do yield quite a bit for the dining hall, and have supplied a few restaurants in town with local veggies and herbs, along with the Open Door Mission. His 1,000+ acres would swallow my plots in the blink of an eye. Heck, his wife’s home garden is a closer comparison.

Zoom out a bit more, and let’s compare states. That same 2014 agriculture census shows Illinois ranking in the top 10 in number of farms, total ag sales, and total crop sales. Vermont does not. However, Vermont did increase its number of farms and its percentage of land farmed from 2007 to 2012 while Illinois decreased in both.

And then there is the geography. With such a vast tree-less, hill-less, and open landscape, how could you not farm hundreds upon hundreds of acres? If a Vermonter wanted to farm even 200 congruent acres, many of them would have to travel up mountains, over streams, or through quarries. Our landscape simply won’t allow such scales. And that is what I love about it. Farmable land exists in small pockets here, influencing and influenced by the formation of towns and villages. The crops produced on these lands often feed mouths within 50 miles, for ease of transport and for ease of market. The roads we drive from farm to farm could not accommodate a machine the likes of his Case International Harvester.

Though I certainly pride myself on where I live and the foods available to me, I cannot discount the way in which my Illinois friend makes a living, feeds his family and sends his children to college. What he grows is a commodity, traded on the market, and utilized for a variety of goods from dog food to cosmetics to wallpaper paste to gasoline, and, yes, food. With close to 40,000 items in the average super market, you bet there is plenty of demand for corn and soy.

While I try to eat a diet that is most nutritious, with lots of whole foods and limited in processed options, tortilla chips are a staple. My friend smiled when we told me that he has a whole section of acreage dedicated to certified non-GMO corn specifically for tortilla chips. I sighed and laughed.

At the end of our conversation, I eagerly invited him and his family to come take in the amazing fall we have to offer in New England. He smiled, and politely declined. October and November, you see, are the hardest working months for a Midwestern farmer. It’s harvest. And every time I hear this line from Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells”, I think of my Illinois farmer friend:

Oh it’s rush hour now
On the wheel and the plow
And the sun is going down upon the sacred cow.

Kimberly Griffin is currently working with the College of Saint Joseph to develop an on-campus farm for educational and edible use. She can be reached at kimberly.griffin@csj.edu.

Time to Shop: Buying Local Made Easier in Pittsford and Chittenden

farm fresh connect

By Jen Miller

Cost, time, accessibility.  These three words can describe the reasons we feel limited in various aspects of our lives, not able to take advantage of certain resources or spend our time the way we envisioned.  Last winter, focus group participants from Rutland County identified the price point, the time required to plan, shop, and prepare, and the business hours of farmers markets and farmstands as the top three barriers to accessing local foods.  Does this ring true to you?  To others in your community?  If so, read on to learn more about work being done to address these barriers and to make buying local easier for community members in our region.

I would like to start by sharing a bit more about two recommendations put forth by those focus group participants related to both access and use of local foods.  First, it was recognized that education, starting at the school level with strong Farm-to-School programming, is key to connecting more people to local foods.  Second, some towns have a limited selection of local products for sale in their towns and Rutland County residents feel that this availability issue needs to be addressed.  As a result, two such towns, Chittenden and Pittsford, are now partnering with RAFFL to increase the access to local food in their communities.

Pittsford’s Lothrop Elementary and Chittenden’s Barstow Memorial School are both already active in efforts to connect their students with the food system.  Wandering the perimeter of Lothrop, it is likely that you will encounter Farm-to School Coordinator Laura MacLachlan, enthusiastically leading a class through a lesson on compost or harvesting cherry tomatoes.  A small greenhouse is scheduled to be constructed on site soon, extending both the growing and garden lesson season at Lothrop.  Meanwhile at Barstow, classes tend to their garden boxes before heading to lunch where chef Meg Hanna has one of many farm fresh menu items waiting for them.  On one of my visits to the school, the highlighted treat of the day were slices of local heirloom tomatoes topped with mozzarella and local pea shoots.   You can only imagine what Hanna has in store for their annual school Thanksgiving feast.

Building on the existing momentum at Lothrop and Barstow, RAFFL has now expanded its Farm Fresh Connect program, which has been offered at area businesses for the past three years.  This on-line farmers markets is now serving the communities of Pittsford and Chittenden, connecting 22 local farmers and food producers with area shoppers.  In any given week, there is a plethora of locally produced vegetables, meats, fruits, artisan breads, and other specialty products such as jams, pickles, and maple syrup.  Customers’ order are delivered directly to the schools on Wednesday afternoons, simultaneously eliminating the need for an extra stop for groceries on the way home while supporting our region’s farmers and producers.

RAFFL staff members are also working with Hanna and MacLachlan to offer local food tastings to students, parents, teachers, and community members.  Featured recipes are simple and straightforward, demonstrating that planning and cooking with local food does not have to be a time-intensive undertaking.  In fact, strategic simplicity of recipes can actually highlight the fresh taste and flavor of local foods.  Look for free samples and recipe cards for corn and bacon salad, tomato tart, Mexican spaghetti squash, and more as you are out and about in Chittenden and Pittsford this fall!  Remember, partnering with schools to offer tastings and serve as pick-up locations is just one of the many initiatives in our region targeted at supporting farms and decreasing the number of people who feel that cost, time, and availability are barriers to accessing local foods.  So stop by, try a new recipe, hear about what we are up to, and let us know how you think we can best serve your community!

Jen Miller is the coordinator of the New Farmer and Farm Fresh Connect programs at the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link.  You can reach her at jen@rutlandfarmandfood.org.

Winter squash — a vegetable for more than one season

Carnival squash is just one of the many kinds of winter squash to cook this fall and winter.

Winter squashes come in several varieties, providing differences in taste and texture. A Carnival Squash, shown above, is a cross between acorn and sweet dumpling squash. Steve Peters/photo

By Steve Peters

Winter squash isn’t just a holiday side dish. It’s a vegetable to love and cook throughout the entire fall and winter months – hence its name. During my weekly stroll through the farmers market this past weekend, I admired the many shapes, sizes and colors of squash and couldn’t resist picking up a few to take home. While I had no definitive plans for them, that’s alright. Unlike many of the summer crops that have come to pass, including summer squash, winter squash has a hard outer rind and is content to hang out on my counter until inspiration strikes – for weeks and months, even, if the conditions (low light and humidity) are right.

While many winter squashes are interchangeable in use, I enjoy trying new varieties and observing the subtle differences in taste and texture. And just when I thought I knew all the squashes out there, I discover something new that farmers are growing.

Here are just a few of the many kinds of squash I’ve found and enjoyed.

Delicata Squash – Everyone I know loves this cream colored, green striped squash. Perhaps it’s because it is easier to slice and quicker to cook than many of the others. Delicata is comparable to sweet potatoes, as it is relatively sweet, with a slightly nutty taste. Try slicing it in half, scooping out the seeds and slicing each half into ¼ inch pieces. You’ll find yourself with attractive, scalloped pieces that can simply be sautéed in a pan with oil and garlic.

Carnival Squash – If you like acorn squash you should give this one a try, as it is a cross breed between acorn and sweet dumpling squash. Carnival’s shape is similar to the acorn, but is usually yellow, with orange and green stripes. The presence of some green stripes is an indication that the squash is at peak maturity. Try stuffing and roasting.

Blue Hubbard Squash – Blue Hubbard is one of my favorites, particularly because of the unique blue color, bumpy skin and the sometimes absurd size and shape in which they can grow. However, a 15 pound squash – its size at the most extreme – can be a bit unwieldy. You could roast it whole like a turkey, or do like I do and smash it on the ground to break into more manageable pieces. But if that sounds less than enjoyable to you, just look for a smaller size. Inside you’ll find deep golden flesh, an indication of a high level of beta-carotene.

Red Kabocha Squash – Kabocha is a generic term for Japanese winter squash. You’ll find both green and red Kabocha, but I prefer the sweetness of the red. Try peeling, cubing and roasting this squash after tossing with your favorite Asian spices.

Almost any winter squash is great roasted and pureed, which then opens up a whole other world of uses. This week in my Rutland Reader column, Rutland Bites, I share some more of these practical tips and uses for winter squash, regardless of the variety, and get into further detail on roasting and pureeing. For now, I leave you with a recipe for winter squash stuffed ravioli.

Winter Squash Ravioli in Sage Butter

Ingredients

  • 24 Wonton wrappers
  • 1 cup winter squash puree
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • leaves from several sprigs of thyme
  • ¼ cup Greek yogurt
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp chopped sage leaves
  • Chopped and toasted walnuts, optional

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the squash, cheese, nutmeg, salt, maple syrup, yogurt and pepper. Stir to blend well.

Remove the wontons from the package and cover with a damp towel to keep moist. Place one teaspoon of squash filling in the center of each wrapper. Fold the wrapper corner to corner. Dip a fork in water and use the wet tines to seal the edges of the wrapper. Continue with the remaining filling and place the constructed ravioli under another damp paper towel as you go.

In batches, add the ravioli to the boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon to a large platter or baking sheet when they float to the top of the water, about 3 minutes.

Melt the butter in a medium sized sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sage, cook for one minute, then add in the ravioli and gently toss. Serve topped with additional Parmesan cheese and walnuts.

Steve Peters is RAFFL’s communications and food education manager. You can reach him at steve@rutlandfarmandfood.org. To find more of recipes, visit everydaychef.org and check out his weekly Rutland Bites food column in the Rutland Reader.