Monday, September 22, 2008

Recipe: Native American-Style Baked Squash

Squash, Beans and Corn were staples for the Native Americans. They were so important that a philosophy of gardening related to them developed. Called "The Three Sisters", squash, corn and beans were always planted together in mound gardens (usually with fish heads and entrails as fertilizer).

Corn was planted first and a short time later beans were planted close to the developing corn stalks. On the outer edges of the mounds squash was planted. As the plants developed the beans were allowed to grow up the corn stalks. This kept the beans off the ground and away from most hungry pests, and also kept the corn well supported. Amazingly, the beans also added nitrogen to the soil which kept the following year's corn healthy and full. Finally, the squash kept weeds down and slowed moisture evaporation from the soil with its large low leaves. It also further discouraged pests with it prickly vines.

The common idea of America before the arrival of Europeans was of a wildly wooded place populated by a primitive race that lived as hunter-gatherers. The truth is wildly different. Early adventurers as far back as the Vikings and the Conquistadors left written records of large cultivated fields that contained a host of domesticated plants. American native people were hybridizing beans, corn and other plants into many varieties long before the first non-natives ever set foot on the North or South American continents.

For today's entry I have chosen one of my favorite Autumn foods. Squash was also a favorite of many of the New England tribes. To this day one can still find the odd squash patch growing in the woods, a remnant of former native farming.

Oh, and for the record: Corn, beans and squash? Native American gifts to world cuisine. Well, those and potatoes, peanuts, pineapples, etc., etc., etc.

This one is an easy-to-prepare delight.

Native American-Style Baked Squash

1 Acorn, Butternut or similar squash
2 TBS sweet butter
8 tsp maple syrup or maple sugar

Heat the oven to 425°F

Split the squash down the middle and scrape out the seeds and stringy membrane.

Place the squash cut side up in a dutch overn.

Put one tablespoon of butter and four teaspoons of maple syrup or sugar in each half.

Cover the pan and place in the oven for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven, allow to cool enough so you can scrape the flesh from the skins into a bowl.

Mash well or whip. Serve hot as a side or on blue corn cakes (a future recipe).

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