Eating Local this Winter: An Ode to Winter Squash

Cooking with local food? It can be a challenge in the winter! Less variety, fewer places to shop, and sometimes much blander options – it can send even the most devoted local foodie straight to the grocery store’s produce department. But don’t despair! Today, we’re singing the praises of the winter squash. Wherever you are, winter squash is an easy way to eat local, healthy food, and be in touch with the changing seasons.

Let’s dig in. Winter squashes, including butternut, acorn, and delicata, are key to eating local and sustainable food this winter. And here’s why:

The first thing that makes squash special is the wide range of climate zones that they’re appropriate for cultivation — in other words, anywhere in the US, you can probably go to a farmer’s market near you and find fresh, local squash. If we’re hoping to cultivate a sustainable future, one where we can get most of our food without shipping it halfway across the globe, we’ll need to find ways to eat delicious winter food, even in colder climates.

In his book Deep Economy, climate activist and writer Bill McKibben tries to stick to a local-only diet for a year — including a challenging Vermont winter. Not surprisingly, there aren’t many options: meat, potatoes, and bread make up most of his diet. Bright, flavorful squash are often a ray of sunshine in otherwise somewhat dreary winter diet.

Squash not only grow late into the season, but many of them will stay good for months, which means the harvest season can extend long into winter.

Last, squash are surprisingly healthy. High in vitamins A and C, they also are a good source of important antioxidants. And their seeds are also a great way to get healthy oils.

A few hot tips:

  • Try chili powder or hot peppers with your meal! Squash has been a staple of Mexican food since pre-colonial times, and it can be really delightful when mixed with chili spices.
  • Go organic. Winter squashes naturally absorb some chemicals from the soil, so it’s best if you can be sure yours was grown on certified organic land, without too many chemicals around.
  • Eat the seeds! Wash them out of the pulp and bake on a sheet for 15-20 minutes. Low temperatures – around 175 F – are best for preserving nutritional benefits.
  • If you’ve got more than you need, try peeling, cutting, and freezing the extra.

Learn more about the nutritional benefits of squash at WH Foods.

Photo credit to Elizabeth Weller and Mike Bitzenhofer, via Flickr.

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