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Feed the World (with Winter Squash)

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I’m pretty sure the biblical story of how a few loaves of bread fed thousands was a mistranslation. Surely, it was a handful of squash seeds.

Joyously prolific, winter squash is as useful as it is varied and handsome. It’s inspiring to grow your own varieties; many that had slipped under the radar during the 20th century are now back in markets, available from such excellent growers as Fedco Seeds. Heirlooms with Japanese, Peruvian, and even French pedigrees reflect their breeders’ tastes and offer exciting variety in appearance and flavor. When plotting your garden, consider squashes’ rambunctious vines; they are pushy, but they also act as weed control.

In the spring, pile up a mound of rich dirt, poke three or four squash seeds inside, and pluck the early weeds until the vine takes over. The plant will become festooned with edible flowers during the summer, but in the fall will produce dozens of squashes.

Winter squash ranges from “personal” size (such as the handsome, 4-inch Carnival pictured below), to the mighty Sweet Meat, which can weigh up to 15 pounds. Squash can be eaten right away or stored over the winter for a tasty, low-calorie meal rich in vitamins C and A (responsible for the beta-carotene that gives the flesh its autumnal hue), as well as fiber, folic acid, niacin, and potassium. Ca-ching! No wonder squash was domesticated in South and Central America thousands of years ago, and then carried to every corner of the world.

While you can pair squash with its ancient globetrotting garden mates (corn and beans), it can also star in soups, sides (when baked and scooped), main dishes (when stuffed with cheese and savories), and desserts (in pies and mousses). The possibilities are as vast as the squash family itself.

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