After school yesterday, the girls and I set out on a mission to find pumpkins. This being my favorite time of the year, and “the search for the perfect pumpkin” tradition an annual, seasonal highlight, I was determined to find a southern-Mexico equivalent for the side-of-the-road pumpkin piles I searched through as a kid. As with most things here, what we found was a lovely, practical, and affordable alternative…the winter squash.
All pumpkins are really varieties of winter squash, when you get right down to it. Tragically, however, field pumpkins (great for carving but about worthless to eat) and sugar pie pumpkins (deliciously sweet and equally handsome) have won the favor of north Americans at the expense of their eccentric cousins, who actually offer just as much, if not more culinary potential and seasonal charm.
Here, winter squash are not sold as stoop decorations…they are food. A fantastic storage vegetable, winter squash, protected by their tough, fleshy skins, can last the better part of the winter without refrigeration. When you are a Maya Indian who lives in a 240 square-foot cinder block structure with no electricity or running water, you tend to appreciate these kinds of things.
My little gringas, now quite accustomed to street negotiations, were on that pumpkin truck like flies on a rotting squash. Taos – notably the most fluent of us all (and to the delight of the indigenous vendors) jumped right up in the truck bed like a calabaza auctioneer. They each chose their favorites, I chose mine, and I gladly payed our generally-inflated-by-30% gringo price of 140 pesos ($10.50) for the lot. As a side note, I am morally opposed to arguing with these folks over their hard-earned pesos when my dollars stretch 20x as far for a fraction of the work.
So now we will be eating winter squash for a while. I will enjoy seeing them from my kitchen window for a time, then maybe they’ll become a part of our Dia de los Muertos alter for the week. One by one, they will be roasted, peeled, boiled and baked. But because we had a human experience with the farmers who grew them, they will not soon be forgotten.
Visit the food category on my Pinterest page for some favorite winter squash recipes!