You may have seen cushaw squash in the past and just not realized it—the large "crookneck" variety is often seen along with decorative gourds and pumpkins during the fall months in home decor bins at places such as Walmart or Hobby Lobby. But cushaw squash are far from mere decor—they're edible, too, and far better put to use as food than frillery (although the cream-colored rind with streaks of forest green is exceptionally pretty).

Although the cushaw squash is originally from southern Mexico and its neighboring Central American countries, the squash has a long history in the Southern United States as well. My mother grew up eating cushaw squash, which her own mother grew in their East Texas gardens. And in many parts of the South, the squash is preferred over pumpkin for making pie from scratch (hence its nickname as the "Japanese pie pumpkin," although I'm not entirely sure where the "Japanese" part comes in).

My mother pronounces the name of the squash "kuh-SHAW" as if she's starting to say the name of the Coushatta Indian tribe, leaving off the last "tah" syllable, although I've heard it pronounced elsewhere as "coo-shaw." You can always trust a Texan to mangle words—take Refugio or Llano or La Grange as examples—so who knows if our Texan pronunciation is correct.

All that matters is that the cushaw squash is best when prepared the way my grandmother and mother have been eating it for years: cut into pieces and roasted very simply, with only a little salt and sugar added. Cut it in half, remove the seeds and the rind, roughly chop the soft flesh, and roast it at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. My mother coats it with olive oil and salt before roasting, removes the squash around the 15-minute mark, tosses it with a bit of brown sugar, then throws it back in to finish. The resulting dish is creamier than butternut or acorn squash and every bit as sweet.

The cushaw squash is in season right now and available in very cute, portable sizes—no crooknecks here—at Canino Produce Market for 59 cents a pound. 

 

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