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Judy Isacoff
Glistening ice-encrusted ridge top forests at sunset, Dec. 19, 2018.

NATURE’S TURN: Better Butter for the New Year

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By Monday, Dec 31, 2018 Farm and Table 2

December 31, 2018 – January 13, 2019

Mount Washington — Earth’s northern hemisphere has barely begun to tilt toward the Sun, yet signs of readying for springtime have appeared in summer and fall crops stowed in cool, dark corners. Potato peeps* have emerged on several of my purple potatoes and vigorous roots have begun to extend around the base of Red Tropea Torpedo onions. A few butternut squash have broken out in spots. The Tropea onion has reached the limit of its dormancy, but the purple potato peeps are occurring a month earlier than usual and the squash usually defy predictions of two- to three-month storage potential.

My storage arrangements have changed, resulting in fluctuating temperatures in storage niches, some of the variation caused by unusual extremes of warm and freezing weather. Is the sprouting and spotting resulting from poor storage conditions or dormancy break in the potato and squash varieties? My response is to cook the vegetables before they decline, make improvements in storage conditions for the rest of the harvest and refine my choices of varieties for the new growing season.

Potato-onion soup, no added color. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Of the countless ways to prepare potatoes and winter squash, I began with a mainstay Potato Onion Soup and a rather obscure Winter Squash Butter. Purple Potato-Onion Soup – as disarming as it is delicious, hot or cold – is basically a puree of up to equal parts onions to unpeeled potatoes. Considering that recipes for this soup are ubiquitous and winter squash spreads for dessert and hors d’oeuvres may be unknown to many, I have included only complete instructions for a more naturally sweet adaptation I made of Winter Squash Butter, the link to the original** having appeared in a current Farm-Based Education newsletter. Subsequently, I found an irresistible savory version, Winter Squash and Walnut Spread, in the New York Times.

Image courtesy New York Times

Here’s my adaptation of the original Winter Squash Butter:

  • 2 cups roasted squash
  • ¼ cup unrefined sugar, ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons apple cider
  1. Preheat oven to 450° F, cut winter squash of choice in half, remove seeds and stringy bits, drizzle with neutral-tasting oil and roast until the flesh of the squash is very tender, 40 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Scoop the roasted squash flesh from the skin and measure out 2 full cups, packed. Transfer to food processor and puree.
  3. Add the sugar, syrup, spices, lemon juice and apple cider, and blend until smooth.
  4. Using a spatula, scrape the mixture into a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, and continue to simmer, scraping the bottom to prevent sticking and burning, for 10 to 15 minutes, until it thickens and becomes velvety.
  5. Allow the squash butter to cool, and then spoon into small jars. The butter will keep, refrigerated, for up to two weeks. (Please note that you can not safely can the squash butter.)

Garden-grown butternut squash, onions and mint: The last step of preparation of savory squash spread. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Whether your goal is to grow for storage potential, e.g. Copra and Redwing onions, or botanical interest and novelty, the likes of Tropea onions, please refer to Resources, below, where you will find links to topics pertinent to the present and to planning for the 2019 growing season.


Winter Squash recipes and characteristics

**Sweet squash butter adapted from https://food52.com/recipes/24857-winter-squash-butter
**Savory spread – https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014387-winter-squash-and-walnut-spread
Seed catalogues have arrived – https://www.turtletreeseed.org/product/919-butternut/
Characteristics of varieties – https://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/vegetables/winter-squash-eating-experience-slideshow.html?q=winter%20squash%20storage%20qualities
Curing and Storage Chart – https://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/vegetables/winter-squash-eating-guide.html

*Potato dormancy – https://theberkshireedge.com/natures-turn-potato-peeps/https://www.potatogrower.com/Article.aspx?year=2013&month=09&article=3040
Characteristics of potato varieties – https://fedcoseeds.com/moose/variety_chart.php
Storage tips, one perspective – https://www.thespruceeats.com/food-storage-4162200
Onions – https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/easy-onion-growing-zbcz1410

Farm-Based Education Network – https://shelburnefarms.org/our-work/for-farm-based-educators

Learning about birds, continued from Dec. 17 Nature’s Turn
International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species https://www.iucnredlist.org/
Audubon’s Native Plant database – https://www.audubon.org/native-plants
Darryl Jones, The Birds at My Table, Cornell University Press – http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100207600

Opportunity to Participate

Helia Native Nursery Workshop Series, Jan. 19, Feb. 2, Feb. 16 – mailchi.mp/helianativenursery/ecological-gardening-winter-program-sessions?e=9d1d355ffd
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2 Comments   Add Comment

  1. susan p bachelder says:

    I do enjoy it when you talk about the stars, but oh my oh my – I love it when you talk about the squash!!!
    thanks for some really wonderful cooking ideas, whether they are from your own garden or winter markets, squash butter looks great!

    1. Judy Isacoff says:

      Good to know you will be enjoying the squash butters. I brought the savory version to a pot luck over the weekend: it was received with raves. Returning home, we finished a batch of the “new apple butter” (sweeter version) spread on dark crackers as dessert. Susan, you always add an afterward perspective that I couldn’t squeeze into the article.

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