Squashing winter food doldrums

Nov. 30, 2013 @ 11:28 PM

You may still be in a turkey coma, but our farmers are refreshed from their weekend off from the South Durham Farmers’ Market and ready to continue the harvest.
Among the bounty at market will be an assortment of winter squash. The winter varieties take almost twice as long as their summer squash cousins to reach maturity and their skins are tough and inedible, but they are packed with sweetness and are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates. These hearty American natives include acorn squash, butternut squash, cheese pumpkins and spaghetti squash.
Native Americans from the Eastern half of the United States counted squash as one of the Three Sisters -- the basis for their agriculture system. The Three Sisters -- corn, beans and squash -- were interdependent crops that encouraged the health and success of each other and restoration of the soil. Having been domesticated around 10,000 years ago, squash holds the title of eldest sibling.
In the triad, the role of squash was to shade the soil, preventing weeds and loss of moisture. Also, its prickly vines protected the squash and its neighbors from predators. Then, at the end of the squash’s life cycle, the abundance of leaves and stems could be raked back into the earth to restore nutrients to the soil for next season. Today, our farmers continue to employ squash in their crop rotations and as a companion plant.
At the original Thanksgiving, there were no sweet potato casseroles topped with marshmallows; instead, various squash dishes were served that quickly became popular among the colonists, especially because of the squash’s long shelf life during the winter. For instance, if kept in a cool, dry and dark location, a butternut squash can remain fresh for months.
With our long growing season, North Carolina ranks in the top four for winter squash production. And, for evidence of our success, you need look no further than your local farmers’ market. From late August through the winter at the SDFM, there are baskets overflowing with winter squash from Pine Knot Farm, Parker Farm, Fickle Creek Farm and FM Farm. 
Stock up on this cold weather staple this coming Saturday, and start your Christmas shopping at our second annual Holiday Craft Market. Local craftspeople will be joining our farmers to sell their one-of-a-kind wares, from holiday wreathes to handcrafted cat toys.
And, the following weekend, Dec. 14, the market switches to our winter hours of 9 a.m. to noon. We will remain open throughout the winter with a complete selection of produce, meat, cheeses, baked goods and more.
Elizabeth Zander is market manager of the South Durham Farmers Market.