Don’t squash my enthusiasm.
Why shouldn’t I be excited about the last little bit of local produce in my pantry? Along with some remaining homegrown potatoes, garlic, frozen garden tomatoes and backyard-raised chickens, I am lucky to have a few Island-grown butternut squashes left.
Butternut squash has many enviable qualities, but best of all is its ability to stay fresh and delicious through the cold months. It is called winter squash for a reason. Leave your orange gold in a cool place and you can eat it throughout the dormant season.
It will make you feel fantastic. The intense orange color alone will brighten a drab winter day, though it is the squash’s nutritional value that will energize and invigorate your body.
This type of squash is a good source of fiber, vitamins A, C and E, manganese, magnesium and potassium, contains antioxidants and is an anti-inflammatory. One serving of squash provides 213 per cent of your daily vitamin A requirement and one-third of the necessary vitamin C! Enjoy the skin; the seeds, toasted and salted, are edible too.
Though butternut is loved throughout the world (it is called butternut pumpkin in Australia), we in Massachusetts can take credit for its introduction. The most common variety sold today is the Waltham butternut squash, and although Massachusetts doesn’t grow the most squash (that designation goes to Florida, then California), its name makes its origins clear.
Squash is native to North America, but the butternut variety was developed in our own state. Though it is a member of the pumpkin and gourd family, butternut squash, Cucurbita moschata “Waltham” didn’t exist until the 1940s.
Credit for this vegetable generally goes to Robert E. Young, a Massachusetts College of Agriculture (now UMASS) professor at the Waltham Agricultural Experiment Station who dedicated his life to working with vegetables to find the best varieties. Through his work this squash variety was perfected. But credit may actually be due elsewhere, according to an article published in 2009. In that article Dorthy Leggett, widow of Charles Leggett, said that her husband, neither a farmer nor a scientist, was likely the real originator of butternut squash.
In the late 1930s Charles and Dorothy brought 94 acres in Stow, Mass. They first leased out the land to farmers, but eventually began to grow their own crops. Charles began experimenting with squash, crossing crookneck varieties with others until he came up with the butternut. It was so named because he said it was “smooth as butter and sweet as a nut.”
Leggett brought his squash to the Waltham Field Station to ask for advice. According to Mrs. Leggett, “That’s how the Waltham people got into it, they were enchanted.”
Somehow, those Waltham folks got naming rights, since it is not called the Stow butternut. Mrs. Leggett put it succinctly: “Back in those days, you didn’t get any credit and there was no way to register or license something like that.”
The Leggett land is no longer a farm; development has taken its toll. In place of the rows of outrageous orange are fields of greens — golf greens. The Butternut Farm Golf Club at least maintains the historical namesake.
Call it the Stow butternut or Waltham butternut, it matters not to me. Just don’t call me late for dinner when butternut squash is on the menu.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.