A few years ago while shooting a television show for NBC I spent a day with Peter Martin and Jacob Beyler at Martin Farms, in Brockport, New York. It’s about 360 miles northwest of New York City, and about a half hour drive from Rochester. I had not really thought much of butternut squash before that trip but I came to realize it is a great winter vegetable add to your culinary repertoire. It is extremely versatile and hearty enough to pair with anything from short ribs to a Ribeye.
The Martins have been growing butternut squash there since the 1930s, and Peter is a third generation Martin. They farm over 500 acres of land and harvest over 10,000,000 pounds of butternut squash a year. What’s most amazing is the fact that the picking season only runs from the beginning of September through the middle of October. That’s a lot of squash to harvest in a month and a half! But as long as they are kept dry and in a cool place, the squash can be stored for up to eight or nine months. Most importantly, during picking season, only a matter of days will pass between when their squash is harvested to when it’s at your local market, and then on your own table.
Peter and Jacob gave me a crash course on what to look for (you want the neck of the squash to be long, so you’re not left with mostly the base, which contains all of the seeds) and how to pick the squash from the ground. Butternut squash grow on vines, much like pumpkins, and each one must be separated at its stem. It’s actually not that difficult, but I can only imagine what it is like doing this for hours in the field with your hands.
You’ve probably seen Martin Farms squash in its pre-cut form at your local market. Do not be intimidated by a whole squash though, cubing it yourself is actually quite simple. To start cut the squash at the bottom of the neck to dislodge the neck from the base. You can then discard the base since it is full of seeds and the flesh is soft and mushy. Next peel the skin off of the neck. Then cube the remaining flesh.
Here’s a quick recipe I learned a while back:
1 medium size butternut squash, medium cube
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt to taste
pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Place the cubed squash on a baking pan, add olive oil, salt and pepper then place in your oven and roast for 15-20 minutes.
Remove from the oven, plate and finish with some sea salt and pepper to taste.
It doesn’t get much easier than that.