I love butternut squash — especially during the fall and winter when I want to eat cozy comfort foods but stay healthy at the same time. If a restaurant menu or a recipe in my favorite food magazine so much as mentions butternut, my interest is piqued right away.
However, I don’t cook with fresh squash very often, for one simple reason: Cutting it up terrifies me. There’s no easy way (that I’ve found) to keep it from rocking back and forth on the cutting board, and not even my biggest kitchen knife can neatly halve it in one stroke.
Once a year I might spring for often-pricey fresh-cut squash cubes from my grocery store, but more often I make do with frozen chunks.
Late last winter, when I was dreaming of escaping outside to the garden, I came across a reference to Row 7 Seeds, a New York company that develops unique, extremely flavorful produce varieties.
Row 7 started with New York-based chef Dan Barber, breeder Michael Mazourek and seedsman Matthew Goldfarb, according to the company’s website, and many of the varieties were first served at Barber’s restaurants Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns (they’re now served around the country and internationally).
What intrigued me most, however, was that their experimental seeds were available to home gardeners as well as to commercial operations. When I saw the 898 squash, which looks like a palm-sized butternut, I knew I had to grow it. I ordered a packet of those seeds and one of Robin’s Koginut squash (which looks like a small, squat pumpkin) and waited impatiently for squash-planting season. Finally it arrived, and soon two neat hills of squash plants joined the cucumbers and tomatoes in our garden.
While I was waiting for my plants to grow, I received an e-mail from Bronx, N.Y.-based Baldor Specialty Foods about its summer produce offerings, which included several of Row 7’s vegetable varieties. In a follow-up conversation, Gabrielle Amette, Baldor’s marketing specialist, told me the company has carried Row 7 products for about three years, offering all of its vegetables when in season, and has had a very positive response from chefs, who comprise Row 7’s biggest following.
Amette also said Row 7’s products are still in the trickle-down phase of consumer awareness, though the company’s Honeynut squash (an older cousin of the 898) has enjoyed a good reception at retailers such as Costco and Whole Foods over the past couple of years.
I lost my first crop of both squashes to voracious squirrels, but fortunately the plants were prolific bloomers, and each grew three more fruits — and this time I protected them with netting. I’m still waiting for the pumpkins to reach maturity, but the 898s have been curing on the counter for two weeks now, and are all set for roasting for a first-day-of-fall feast.
I’ll let you know how they turn out, but I’m already planning to grow them again next year.
Amelia Freidline is The Packer’s designer and copy chief. E-mail her at [email protected].