By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
There is something very special about Thanksgiving week. The anticipation of family and friends getting together on this truly great American holiday, one of few nonreligious ones at that. I love the homey, comforting feeling this holiday evokes. The change in the weather and the days getting shorter add to that cozy atmosphere. Thanksgiving is the beginning of the many gatherings people will attend, continuing through the end of the year.
I remember back in the early ’70s when I was at the University of Michigan and all of my high-school friends were back in town for the holiday weekend. It was a reunion. I watched my kids do the same thing when they were in college. The constant coming and going of young people. It was invigorating hearing the stories of the first semester of the school year from them.
From 1980-2008, when I owned my patisserie and gourmet food shops, I could never host Thanksgiving at my house because the day before was the busiest business day of the year. By Thursday morning, I was in a heap and could barely drag myself to my sister’s for dinner.
A Thanksgiving table would be lacking if there weren’t some type of winter squash. It screams fall table. The autumn color-that deep orange-fits right in with the November color scheme.
Squash has been present in the American indigenous diet for centuries. There are historical records of squash having been foraged and later cultivated as far back as 12,000 years ago in all of the Americas. It is one of the original foods that sustained the native population and was eventually introduced to the Pilgrims in the Plymouth colony in 1620 when the Wampanoag tribe fed it to the starving settlers. Winter squash was served at the first Thanksgiving meal in 1621.
Squash, a relative of the pumpkin, grow on vines on the ground, sprawling all over the garden, beginning with beautiful blossoms. They are called winter squash because, unlike summer squash like zucchini, they have a thick outer skin and rind which allows them to keep for long periods of time out of refrigeration. It’s a nice vegetable to have sitting in your pantry or on your counter when you are inspired to add it to your meal.
Here in the United States, we seem to cook winter squash only in the fall and winter months. I am personally going to make an effort to serve it year-round, since it is such a versatile vegetable. You can roast, bake, sauté, stew, puree, or mash winter squash. It can be used in soups, stews, pastas or even desserts. It is high in fiber and very rich in antioxidants, potassium, vitamins C and E, and Beta-carotene.
Nowadays, being fully retired, besides anticipating the holiday, I can thoroughly enjoy the menu planning, cooking, table setting, and hosting. This year, I’m having a small group. Most of my family will be celebrating in other parts of the country. We’ve chosen to “take in” those without a place to go. The effort for 6 people is the same as for 16, in truth. One still needs to prepare the bird, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, a green vegetable, winter squash, pies, and so on. I pace myself by doing a lot of the prep work a few days before the big meal.
Today’s recipe has some benefits, besides being delicious. You can make it a couple of days ahead, keep it in the fridge, and microwave it to heat it through. No need to clog up the already crowded oven. The preparation is a nod to my Midwest roots featuring apples and maple syrup. A cooking note: you might be inclined to cook the squash in a microwave because it is easier. Yes, that’s true, but you will lose out on the depth of flavor that develops when it is baked in the oven. Feel free to substitute the apples with pears or use brown sugar instead of the syrup. It will all turn out great anyway.
Tell us here at The Insider what you are thankful for this holiday season. I am personally filled with gratitude every day. I look at what I have, not what I don’t.
Butternut Squash with Sautéed Apples
Yield: 8-10 servings
1 2 1/2-3 lb. butternut squash
1 oz. butter
2 lg. firm tart apples, such as Fuji, Gala, or Honeycrisp, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4” slices
1-2 oz. apple brandy (optional)
1/4 c. pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray with pan release. Reserve.
Cut the squash lengthwise in half. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Place the squash cut-side down on the foil. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the thickest part is very tender when pierced with a knife. Cool enough to handle.
While the squash is cooking, prepare the apples. In a large skillet over high heat, melt the butter. When foaming, add the apple slices. Cook over moderately high heat for about 5 minutes, until the apples are just tender and begin to brown. If adding brandy, pour it in the pan and allow the alcohol to evaporate for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Pour on the maple syrup and vanilla.
Peel the skin off the squash using a sharp knife. Cut the flesh into chunks and put in a bowl. Mash up the squash using the back of a large spoon. (I do not recommend using a food processor because the end result will be over pureed and resemble baby food.)
Fold the apples into the squash. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to your serving dish, cover, and refrigerate until needed. Microwave to reheat.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.