I can’t remember winter squash being a staple where I grew up in Grundy County, Tennessee. We had a three-acre garden, and we normally filled the cellar with sweetpotatoes, Irish potatoes and all the food that my grandmother canned, but I can’t recall us ever growing winter squash — or even pumpkins. Were we just non-conformists?
When I moved to Pike County, Kentucky in 1995 and met my wife — a native Pike Countian — I didn’t see that winter squash was much more of a thing there. However, they did have an appreciation for the cushaw. In fact, my wife was raised in Cushaw Hollow. I gained an appreciation of the cushaw from my in-laws and later, I expanded that into other varieties such as butternut and Jarradale. Fried cushaw and cushaw pie were commonplace at the fall dinner table.
I’ve heard that, if you buy canned pumpkin, you’re probably buying more winter squash than pumpkin. I don’t know if that’s true, but I could believe it. It’s my humble opinion that a winter squash pie beats the tar out of a pumpkin pie, any day of the week.
I heard another thing about cushaw. Maybe it’s lore, but it still paints an appetizing picture. I’ve been told that the native Americans, out on long hunts, would stuff a cushaw with venison and bury it under the coals of their fire, so that by the time they returned at day’s end, they had a well-cooked and well-flavored meal awaiting them. The thought of that makes my stomach growl.
But the main thing that impresses me about winter squash of any kind is their storage ability. It’s not unusual for us to prepare a butternut in the spring that’s been sitting in a corner of our kitchen all winter long. No refrigeration. No canning. No drying. No fuss.
I know that several of our Grow Appalachia families in Wise County grew winter squash this year. I’m not sure for how many that was a novelty, but I think that’s a question I’ll have to ask.