Randolph’s scant two recipes for squash, one for summer and one for winter squash, conceals how essential the family Cucurbita was for early American diets. An excellent source of vitamin C, winter squashes, those members of the Cucurbita family allowed to mature on the vine, were an important crop for Native Americans before contact with Europeans. Southeastern Native American tribes grew winter crooknecks (the squash Randolph refers to in her recipe), cushaws, and sweet potato squashes. Anyone who has grown squash knows these plants are prolific. A 50-foot row of winter squash can yield 80 pounds or more. Native Americans enjoyed squash broiled and roasted as wells as preserving the flesh in syrup. Winter squash’s tough outer rind allowed the vegetables to be stored, providing an essential store of vitamins in the lean winter months. Native Americans enjoyed squash broiled and roasted as wells as preserving the flesh in syrup.
Newly arrived Europeans were initially lukewarm about squashes. However, once they experienced a harsh winter, the hardy and prolific squashes won them over. Early Americans enjoyed squashes stewed, baked with animal fat, honey, or maple syrup, and incorporated into European-style dishes.
Randolph’s recipe for cooking winter squash is a straightforward preparation of a dietary staple and bares some similarities to her instructions for preparing summer squash. Her instructions refer specifically to winter crookneck squash, “the crooked neck of this squash is the best part.” Since I couldn’t source a crookneck, I substituted butternut and followed the instructions for stewing the large part containing the seeds. Randolph notes the squash is “excellent when stewed with pork chops,” however, I noticed no change in flavor from adding the meat.
Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 110.
Adapted by RA Snell
- ½ winter crooked neck or butternut squash
- 1 – ½ bone-in pork chop
- 1 tablespoon butter
- salt & pepper, to taste
1. Peel and cube your squash. Save half for another time in the freezer or double the recipe to use an entire squash.
2. Place the squash in a saucepan with the pork chop. Add water to cover and simmer until squash is soft, about 25 minutes.
3. Remove pork chop (remove the bone and this would be an excellent treat for your dog!) and drain the squash. Mash thoroughly or run through a food mill.
4. Return the squash to the pot and add the butter, salt, and pepper. Stew, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is cooked away. Take care that the squash does not burn.
Sarah Dickert, “From the Victory Garden: American history told through squash,” Oh Say Can You See?: Stories from the Museum, National Museum of American History, 3 Nov. 2011 (Accessed 5 Dec. 2020) https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2011/11/from-the-victory-garden-american-history-told-through-squash.html.
Jean English and Eric Sideman, “Winter Squash: Big Yields From Spectacular Plants,” Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, May 2009 (Accessed 5 Dec. 2020) https://www.mofga.org/Publications/Articles-for-Reprinting/Winter-Squash-Big-Yields-From-Spectacular-Plants.
“How did the squash get its name?” Every Day Mysteries, Library of Congress (Accessed 5 Dec. 2020) https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/item/how-did-squash-get-its-name/.
Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 10, 60-61.
Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 110, 267.
Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 561.
Squash image by Jean English: https://www.mofga.org/Publications/Articles-for-Reprinting/Winter-Squash-Big-Yields-From-Spectacular-Plants
Small girl standing by vegetable exhibit at Custer County fair, Broken Bow, Nebraska. Solomon D. Butcher, photographer, 1886. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.