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This squash is not an ornament.

October 19, 2008
"ornamental" squash display.

Last week we were in Connecticut filming some cooking show segments for our fall season. Outside the Whole Foods in West Hartford there was this beautiful display of winter squash. I recognized several varieties from recent trips to farmer's markets, including some that I had never seen before this year, like the long Pink Banana Squash or bulbous gray hubbard squash. I was happy to see some of these less common varieties creeping into the mainstream, but then I saw the sign posted above them:

 

It made me rather incensed to see food being relegated to the category of ornament. Especially good, locally grown food. It reminded me of Barbara Kingslover's rant in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about the seasonal pumpkin recipes in her local newspaper- all of which called for canned pumpkins, while real pumpkins sat carved or solid as people's porch-side decoration.

It does take some training to go beyond the can and venture into the world of heirloom squash varieties. I was probably 11 or 12 the first time I had pumpkin pie made from real pumpkins and thought that the concept was totally disgusting. I wanted the pumpkin in my pumpkin pie to come from a can too, but I grew up and as I grew up I learned that eating the real thing is better for your body and the planet. So now I experiment with my vegetables. Two weeks ago I bought a pink banana squash from Evolution Organics at the Grand Army Plaza Green Market. I didn't know what to do with it, but wanted to tackle it anyway. It went whole into the oven and over the next week was transformed into a chocolate-oatmeal-pink banana squash cake and various soups. It was a lot of squash, but squash is a versatile vegetable and the more you have, the more you discover what can be done with it. 

Now if the first time I saw that pink banana squash was in a display of "ornamental gourds" I probably wouldn't have tried baking it. Which brings me back to the sign at Whole Foods.  I'm not saying that it's a supermarket's responsibilty to teach consumers how to eat, but it could be.  What if instead of calling those squash ornaments (or even gourds, which to me has no edible connotation), they offered recipes for gray hubbard squash soup, or pink banana squash muffins?

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