Shirley Braden was diagnosed with gluten intolerance in June 2003. She writes the gluten-free blog, gfe—gluten free easily. She also leads the King George Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Group, which she founded in 2004. Shirley serves on the core council of a large GIG group, as well as contributing to and editing its quarterly newsletter. Her mission is to educate all about the effects of gluten on one’s health and share her gfe approach.
It’s a pleasure to be taking part in Squash Fest and guest posting here at Linda’s! Linda has been sharing and helping the gluten-free community for quite some time with helpful information and delicious recipes on her blog and through her weekly Wednesday roundups, including her challenges to create muffins, casseroles, and more. I very much appreciate her efforts!
For Squash Fest, I’m sharing my love of the cushaw squash today. Have you heard of it? Don’t feel badly if you haven’t. I haven’t met anyone in my neck of the blogosphere yet who has. That’s a shame because cushaw is such a delightful winter squash. First of all, cushaws are ginormous. (Yes, ginormous is in the dictionary now.) The ones shown in the photo above are 15 and 18 inches long with the bulbous parts being 8 and 10 inches wide, respectively. (The other deep orange winter squash shown in the photo are about the size of sugar pumpkins, so that gives you a frame of reference for the size of the cushaw.) Cushaw squash can grow even bigger and weigh up to 30 pounds. In a cool, dark place, cushaws can keep up to a year by some accounts, but ours get used up fairly quickly, so I’ve never tested the cushaw’s storage ability to those limits. (I have kept them for about two months in a cold, dark corner of my dining room though.) Per Wikipedia, it seems that in some areas of the U.S., cushaws are sometimes called kershaws. Still not ringing a bell? Well, no matter. Let me tell you more about cushaws, how I learned to love them, and why I like them so much.
One of our friends, Joe, introduced me to cushaws many years ago. Two huge crookneck squashes with a creamy background and what appeared to be green stripes that had been sponge painted on, dwarfed some sugar pumpkins on the porch of his river cottage. I’d never seen these massive squash before, but they looked friendly and interesting (yes, squash can look friendly), so I asked Joe about them. He told me they were cushaw. He was surprised I wasn’t familiar with them. He told me that his parents had grown this hardy winter squash for years to share with their 10 children. Joe said that the plants are prolific; just a few plants will produce many squash. But it was when he mentioned that cushaw is slightly sweeter than pumpkin and could be used any way you would use pumpkin, that’s when my affection headed towards love! And, well, after our first time together, the deal was sealed. I love my cushaw!
A single cushaw squash has relatively few seeds and pulp as you can see from the photo, but provides lots of “meat.” Cushaw puree is only slightly paler in color than pumpkin puree and as Joe told me, it’s actually sweeter than that of the sugar pumpkin. Eating homemade pie using home pureed cushaw or pumpkin is an experience near nirvana in my humble opinion. Oh, incidentally, some folks even refer to cushaw as cushaw pumpkin instead of squash.
However, they are getting harder and harder to find each year around here. Last year, I found none. Zero. Zip. Nada. That meant I had to rely on sugar pumpkins for my homemade pumpkin pies and other pumpkin desserts. Because sugar pumpkins are only sold for a short period locally, my pumpkin baking ended way earlier than my family would have liked.
My friend, Joe, and I only touch base occasionally these days. I believe his parents have passed on and I’m not sure if he grows cushaw himself in his lovely, but small fenced-in garden. When I did inquire if he knew where I could find any cushaw this season, he referred me to a local “pick your own” farm that always has seasonal activities, such as hayrides and Christmas tree cutting. However, when I called, they had no cushaw. The farmer told me it had not been a good year for cushaw with the drought. It seems that this heirloom squash is very heat and disease resistant, but needs summer rain. Because I had already signed up to guest post on cushaw for Squash Fest, I was starting to get worried.
I started looking online to see if there were any farmers’ markets within traveling distance that might have vendors selling them. I didn’t locate any local purveyors of cushaw, but I did learn a bit more about them on sites like Slow Food USA. Plus, I found out that my difficulty in finding them was not that unusual.
“While the green-striped cushaw is not endangered per se, it tends to be grown in small batches, often for private use, and is not widely available in retail markets. It is a prized foodstuff in various culinary cultures, including to some southwest Native Americans, to the southern Appalachians, and to the Louisiana Creoles and Italians.”
Furthermore, the Slow Foods USA site states that the cushaw is “believed to have been domesticated in Mesoamerica sometime between 7000 and 3000 B.C. It’s one of the most popular squash among the Hopi, Akimiel O’odham, and the Tohono O’odham who save seeds from previous crops.”
When we were on our way to our mountain property recently, we passed by a local nursery that always has a large assortment of pumpkins in the fall. This time I looked over quickly, and I immediately saw some cushaw! In a flash, I turned around and we headed back. There were the beauties—five of them—the only ones the nursery had. We happily snatched them up. The sales person told us it was the first year they’d sold cushaw; it was meant to be. I sure hope they’ll offer cushaw again next year.
Because our home is in the woods, I don’t have enough sunlight to grow a garden myself (and we have a hungry deer population that decimates just about everything in my yard that does grow), However, if any of you guys want to grow some next year, I’ll gladly save my seeds and send them to you! I’m serious. You don’t even have to promise me any of your cushaw in exchange. Just keep the tradition and cushaw love going! Here are directions on growing cushaw (with helpful tips you won’t want to miss, too).
Finally, my most frequent use of cushaw is in baked goods and here’s a delectable cushaw recipe (which is gluten free and dairy free). It combines the best of both worlds to make a pumpkin pie that’s more upscale and a pecan pie that’s not overly sweet. When cooking sweet or savory recipes, feel free to use cushaw the same way that you would use pumpkin. Some of my favorite recipes that I make using either cushaw or pumpkin are Crustless Pumpkin Pie, Easy Pumpkin Squares, Pumpkin Cheesecake (sorry, that recipe is not up yet), Veronica’s Pumpkin Soup, and my new Pumpkin Pie Smoothies.
Cushaw Pecan Pie
- 3 eggs, divided
- 1 cup cushaw puree
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 2/3 cup honey
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp melted butter (dairy or non-dairy)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup pecan halves
Slightly beat one egg. In a medium-sized bowl, mix egg, cushaw puree, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and pumpkin pie spice well. Pour into unbaked gluten-free pie crust.
Beat remaining two eggs. In same medium-sized bowl which you just emptied, add eggs, honey, ½ cup granulated sugar, butter, and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in pecans. Spoon over cushaw mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 to 50 minutes or until filling is set. Cool. Top with Cinnamon Honey Whipped Cream, if desired.
Shirley’s Notes: While I love crustless when it comes to pies, for this recipe I used a press-in pie crust recipe that I like. Pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin can be used in place of the cushaw puree in this recipe. If you would like to make this recipe sugar free, coconut or palm sugar may be substituted for the granulated sugar, but you may want to reduce the amount slightly as coconut/palm sugar offers a richer taste.
Pie recipe adapted from recipe on Thanksgiving card from our local food bank