Awash in Squash

The Blue Hubbard may (or may not) be an Ohio native, but it’s definitely delicious.

Few vegetables offer the versatility of winter squash, or the diversity. Pumpkins get all the love come fall—they’re used in pies, jack o’ lanterns, even as a flavoring for beer—but the gourd family has so much more to offer.

From now through the New Year, Northeast Ohio farmers markets are bursting with all sorts of winter squashes. The ones you’ll see most often are Acorn, Butternut and Spaghetti, but there will also be Kabocha, Delicata, Buttercup … the delicious usuals. Winter squash is ripe for esoterica, with everyone seeming to prefer this variety or that. So as to not remain silent on the controversy, here’s our favorite: the Blue Hubbard.

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The Hubbard group of squashes is surrounded by lore. As is often the case when attempting to identify the lineage of an heirloom vegetable, we’d have better luck getting an accurate background check of Jason Bourne than reliably reporting on the path the Hubbard squash took to get to where it is today.

There are at least two competing stories of how it was bred to include the Blue variety and gain wide distribution. The leading tale involves an enterprising New England seedsman with a penchant for marketing, James J. H. Gregory. Mr. Gregory, from Marblehead, Massachusetts, reportedly obtained the genetic material that led to the Blue Hubbard from Elizabeth “Ma’am” Hubbard, a neighbor who came across squash seeds of South American or West Indian origin from a Captain Knott Martin, who himself supposedly obtained the seeds from an unnamed gardener. No less an authority than Amy Goldman, the author of The Compleat Squash, makes the claim that we “should all get down on our hands and knees and thank Gregory for introducing the original green Hubbard to the American public in the 1840s and ’50s.” Maybe we will, Amy, maybe we will.

However, we Northeast Ohioans, never a group to miss a local connection, have proposed an alternate history. Randolph Township, in Portage County, claims the Blue Hubbard as its own, discovered by the sons of the township’s founding father, Connecticut native Bela Hubbard. According to township historians (or at least its website), Mr. Hubbard’s sons were part of group that in 1831 took a trip to southern Ohio. When they returned, they had with them the seeds of the squash that would become the Hubbard.

While acknowledging that the history is not clear, Goldman sides with the charming Gregory. But really, who cares? These things are delicious, and they keep for just about ever.

You might get two months out of an Acorn squash, and a few weeks more from a Butternut, but properly stored you can enjoy a Blue Hubbard more than six months after its harvest. With that kind of shelf life, freezing or canning the Hubbard, or its genus Cucurbita brethren, just seems downright masochistic. With proper storage, you get to eat the 15to 30-pound Blue Hubbard beasts which is what it’s really all about. Steamed, baked and even, not surprisingly, fried, there are countless ways to enjoy winter squash, and none has a flavor or texture superior to the Blue Hubbard. In ravioli, in pie, in a salad, stuffed with grains ….

Really, the only tricky part of consuming a Blue Hubbard is opening the thing up. Here’s how we do it: Place squash in loosefitting bag, find hard ground, drop bagged squash on ground, repeat until squash is open. Alternatively, find a sledgehammer and a hard surface to place the squash on and get all Gallagher with it. Either way, once open the easiest thing to do is place the pieces (with the seeds scraped away from the flesh with a spoon*) shell side down on a baking sheet in a 425° oven and cook until the flesh is soft and starting to caramelize. Figure around 45 minutes. From there you can scoop the flesh and use it wherever squashy goodness is desired. Seriously, try it mixed with oatmeal.

And next time you’re sitting down and enjoying winter squash in its myriad permutations, remember to be thankful for those farmers who bring them to us, as it doesn’t take many seasons of home gardening to learn the perils and unpleasantries of growing this fickle vegetable. Seedlings that are susceptible to all forms of mildew and rot, and which attract cucumber beetles like little else. Spiraling, thorny vines that extend forever and have no respect for the sanctity of the plants growing around them. Epic ripening times, with the season’s yield sitting in the field, vulnerable to all sorts of weather and pests.

As gardeners, there are few crops we so avoid planting. But when we sit down at the table, there are even fewer we crave more.

* Pro Tip: Don’t forget to save those seeds, whether they’re from pumpkins or any other winter squash. Toasted they’re not just great for snacking out of hand (take a tip from the squash-loving country of Mexico and try adding some chili powder when roasting)—they also add depth to moles, are a great local substitute for pine nuts in late-season pestos and add a welcome crunch just about anywhere you put them. There are even recipes floating around for pumpkin/ squash seed brittle and using the seeds in veggie burgers.