Squash Wrangling Techniques 101

I love kitchen tools and gadgets, collected strolling the aisles of Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel or, my favorite, Restoration Hardware. Since I make all our meals from “scratch” – think pre-1880’s wife not reliant on industrialized food production – having the right tool for the task is a tremendous time-saver. For hundreds of years of civilization, the mistress of the home relied on servants – hired, bought or indentured – to aid in the growing and preparation of food. We joined a CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) co-op for the food-growing portion help that I need, given that my resident woodchuck wipes out my garden every year. Much of the “kitchen staff” are my gadgets and appliances, without the hassle of modern-day personnel problems and IRS filings. From the more exotic OXO mango splitter to my old reliable Cuisinart food processor, they work hard and often, without complaint.

Two of my favorite “tools” are not found in a kitchen drawer, pantry, cabinet, or even in the house. In response to what I’m about to reveal, Martha Stewart would probably offer a blistering, disdainful sneer. Julia Child, on the other hand, would have exuberantly laughed, expressing delight.

A side walk and a snow bank. Those are two of my favorite tools.

The snow bank, being seasonal, is of limited use, but tremendously handy in its function as an always-available (at least, in winter) ice water bath. Nearly 25 years ago, a curry sauce risked turning into curry sludge if I didn’t immediately stop the cooking process. It needed an ice bath. Rushing out the front door into -25f degree weather, plunging the hot pan into a waist-high snow bank seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do. It worked so well – very quickly and evenly cooling off the sauce – that I made sure the snow banks closest to the front door were never cleared away. I also made sure my winter coat was hung within easy reach, next to my apron.

Side walks, while not necessarily a seasonal item, are my next favorite “tool”. Driveways made of asphalt or cement, or stone patios are good options if a side walk isn’t available. The main attribute one looks for, no matter side walk, driveway or patio, is a hard, solid surface, free of stones and dirt, on which tough-skinned squash are dropped, miraculously breaking into more manageably-sized pieces.

A large plastic bag is required, in which a whole squash is placed. Unrestricted squash sections have an amazing ability, left on their own, to bounce and rebound. The last thing you want to see flying towards you is a 3 or 4-pound piece of squash. Also, chasing squash sections, while it may offer good quick-sprint exercises, leaves a trail of slippery seeds which are difficult to pick up. The goal is to make less work for yourself – not more.

Throwing squash – and please don’t think I’m talking about little puny acorn squash, easily halved with one quick chop of a well-sharpened cleaver – is ideal for large, unwieldy Hubbard squash. They’re incredibly tough-skinned and odd-shaped, making it difficult to get a firm grasp. It’s not a safe scenario when you add a sharp chef’s knife to the mix.

Until I developed my Stuff ‘n Toss technique, I often felt dissecting a Hubbard squash put my very life at risk. Also, it was a rather lonely endeavor. Everyone cleared out of the kitchen, even the adjacent rooms, the chopping, hacking, and whacking a bit too animated for their taste. “Scary” is a word they would probably use to describe me in Hubbard-dissecting mode.

With my Stuff ‘n Toss technique (this is starting to sound like a TV commercial for a one-time limited offer if you order one Hubbard squash and one white plastic garbage bag for $19.95, that’s right, just $19.95 within the next 15-minutes…..), I’m no longer lonely.

I barely make it to the front door, plastic bag and Hubbard squash in hand, before “volunteers” are reminding me that I promised they could have the first toss. Like Tom Sawyer watching friends painting his fence, I get to stand back as they perfect their individual throwing techniques. While I am a bit concerned when they gleefully yell, “that is just SO COOL”, that they’re missing the main culinary point (food prep without knives is cool), they’re young.

Some day, when they’re struggling with their very own Hubbard squash, they’ll fondly remember, and I hope, throw Hubbard squash with their children, making it a fall tradition.

There’s also a certain element of surprise for them, that Mommy would “prepare” her food in such an earthy-manner. That’s good. It keeps them on their toes and makes me less predictable, more flexible and well-rounded in my problem-solving abilities.

Just wait until I build my own pumpkin trebuchet, a favorite fall attraction here in New England. Doubt you’ll find that mentioned in Fodor’s “Fall Activities in New England”....