If we can have Christmas in July, why can’t we have Thanksgiving in August? Yep, we’re talking pumpkin today. And this pumpkin — the Cushaw — is usually harvested during the hot months, like its summer squash brethren.
What is a Cushaw Pumpkin?
This striped beauty goes by many common names, including Tennessee Sweet Potato Squash and Japanese Pumpkin. Depending on your locale in the Southern U.S., you might also hear it referred to as a Kershaw Squash or the Juirdmon. Botanically, the Cushaw is known as Cucurbita argyrosperma.
It’s very closely related to the ever-popular Zucchini (C. pepo var. cylindrica), Yellow Summer Squash (C. pepo var. recticollis) and a closer relative to the Acorn squash (C. pepo var. turbinata) and Pumpkin (C. pepo). All Latin aside, the Cushaw fruit is basically a gourd. But wait!
Though most pumpkin varieties are high in Vitamin E, fiber and a dozen other healthy minerals, the Cushaw has a distinction — it also tastes wonderful on its own. Seriously. Roasted like Spaghetti Squash, the Cushaw offers up a slight nutty sweetness like no other Cucurbita.
Other than corn (and perhaps bison), the Cushaw might have more historical culinary significance than any other food in the history of North America. Several native tribes in the modern Southwest (U.S.) have cultivated the fruit for thousands of years because of it’s tolerance to hot and dry growing conditions and resistance to pests and disease. Not only is the flesh tasty — as dinner or dessert — the seeds contain a high amount of oil compared with other Cucurbita varieties. That means (the seeds) are well suited for useful byproducts.
Did you know? The Cushaw might well be the ‘pumpkin’ in all the Thanksgiving lore. Horticultural historians believe it was cultivated in North American as early as 7,000 B.C. Interestingly, this variety is more resistant to pests and diseases than most (if not all) gourd varieties. In addition to being an important food crop among native-Americans, it also prized for various medicinal properties.
So, why have most people never heard of the Cushaw?
The green-striped Cushaw is rarely promoted and sold alongside those thin-skinned orange pumpkins, and your guess as to why is as good as mine. Fortunately, a few old-school cooks in Tennessee still make Cushaw Butter, while their neighbors in Appalachia commonly use Cushaws (instead of orange pumpkin) in their holiday pies. So do the Cajuns and Creoles in Louisiana. Still, its use as an ingredient is so rare that I had to obtain my Cushaw from someone who has been saving seeds from an accidental find a few years ago. (Thank you, Debbie!)
For crying out loud — if you have just one ray of sunshine that makes it to your garden, pick up some Cushaw seeds. They’re available at numerous seed purveyors online … for cheap. You’ll thank me, and you’ll agree that the Cushaw is worthy of more attention. Much more.
I’m featuring one of those recipes that most of my 13 loyal fans will have to bookmark for later. Please do. And please consider growing this wonderful fruit — or asking your local farmer(s) or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) peeps to plant a few Cushaw seeds. Better yet, insist to your local supermarket produce managers to order this. It’s worthy of our attention in the kitchen. I promise.
Cushaw Butter Pasties (Hand Pies)
Preheat oven to 400F.
On a floured surface, roll dough to about 1/5-inch thickness (similar to flour tortilla); Cut dough into 5-inch discs. Re-roll and continue cutting. — Spread about 1 tsp of peach preserves onto the surface of each piece of dough; place about 1 TB of the Cushaw Pumpkin filling near the top of the disc, then fold over and crimp to seal (I use a fork).
Brush with egg bath, then sprinkle lightly with coarse sugar. Cut 2-3 slits in top of crust. Place on baking sheet and cook in preheated oven until golden, about 30-45 minutes.
Makes about 24 Cushaw Butter Pasties.
3 cups – All-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) – Unsalted butter, cold & cut into several pieces
8 oz (1 pkg) – Cream cheese, cold & cut into several pieces
1 TB – Cider vinegar
3/4 cup – Cold water
2 tsp – Kosher or plain salt
2 tsp – Fresh orange zest
In a food processor add flour, butter, cream cheese, salt and orange zest. Pulse until mixture resembles a coarse (pea-sized) texture. Add cider vinegar as processor is running. Slowly add water until mixture begins to form a ball (you might not use the entire 3/4 cup). — Divide dough mixture in half. Form balls; place each ball in plastic wrap and knead lightly as you wrap. Place in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.
2 cups – Cushaw Pumpkin pulp (recipe below)
¾ cup — Granulated sugar
1 TB – Brown sugar, packed
1 TB – Whole milk, almond milk or Half & Half
2 tsp — Ground cinnamon
1 tsp – Vanilla
½ teaspoon — nutmeg
¾ teaspoon — ground ginger
Peach preserves (about 1/2 cup)
Egg bath (1 large egg beaten w/ 1 TB water)
Coarse sugar, such as Turbinado
Place all filling ingredients (except peach preserves, egg bath ingredients and course sugar) in a blender; process until smooth.
Cushaw Pumpkin Pulp
Cut Cushaw pumpkin into 3-4 pieces. Remove seeds and reserve for another use. Place pumpkin pieces flesh-side-down onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375F for about 45-60 minutes. Allow to cool and remove flesh with a fork (it will resemble Spaghetti Squash). — Place in a fine mesh sieve and allow to drain slightly.
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