A Winter squash, butternut is not actually called a pumpkin in that many places around the world. That’s one that got past me! They are of the berry family, or ‘pepo’, and are related to cucumbers and melons, making them yet another example of ‘technically fruit but not in the fruit salad’ type deals. Both NZ and Australia refer to most gourds or squash under the umbrella of ‘pumpkin’, a broad term with no defined botanical or scientific meaning. Hey, if it walks like a pumpkin, and it quacks like a pumpkin…
It is root to stem eating – the flesh, skin, seeds and even the flowers on the vine can be eaten. It has bright orange flesh and is one of the sweetest Pumpkins/squashes. The brighter the flesh, the sweeter they are. They are harvested in the Autumn time, but hold incredibly well throughout winter.
The word squash comes from the Narragansett word askutasquash, meaning "eaten raw or uncooked", Native Americans believed that squash was so nutritious that they would bury their dead with it to sustain them on their final journey. The modern name comes from Charles Leggett, an amateur breeder from Massachusetts who described them as ‘smooth as butter, sweet as a nut’. The butternut originates from Mexico and Guatemala.
Butternut is loaded with Vitamin A, one cup provides more than your daily requirement for the day! Fat-free, a great source of beta-carotene (for healthy blood pressure) and vitamin C butternut is also a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber which is beneficial for those with both diabetes type one and two since it helps to keep blood sugar levels in check. 100g of pumpkin has about 200kJ of energy, making it a great food for weight loss. The Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are high in zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.
To store: Store in a cool, dry, dark place at around 10 degrees, but make sure they do not freeze. Under the best conditions, they should keep for 3-4 months. They get sweeter in storage as the starch converts to sugar.
To use: To bake, slice in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and place face down on a baking tray with sides. Add 1cm of water to the pan. Bake at 180 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour until shells are soft and starting to collapse. Remove from shells, and fill with butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, seasoning or fillings.
To freeze: Pour pureed pumpkin into ice cube trays and freeze. Pop the frozen cubes into freezer bags.
In South Africa, grilled butternut is seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon or stuffed before being wrapped in foil and grilled as a side to braais (BBQ). Known as Calabaza in Spain, it is used in stews, cakes, and candies. North Americans use it in both sweet and savoury dishes; Three sisters' chilli is a native American staple of corn, beans and squash. Autumn dishes in America include Butternut pie, bread and butternut pudding, butternut sweet bread and butternut puree pudding. It is versatile and can pop up anywhere other pumpkins are used such as risotto, mash (bharta in India) and butternut chana masala curry.