All over New England, at farm stands, groceries, and local markets, September’s crisp air ushers in an annual switch from summer’s bounty of berries, peppers, and tomatoes to autumn’s festive bins of hardy gourds. Some knobby and mottled, some flamboyantly hued like a maple leaf’s last stand, winter squashes — acorn, buttercup, turban, carnival, and more — crowd the markets. But one type stands out in its elegant simplicity: the butternut.
With its long, graceful neck, delicate curves, and smooth, creamy skin, the butternut may play coy, but it reigns supreme in flavor and versatility.
Today’s most common butternut variety was introduced in 1970 in Waltham, Massachusetts. It was the result of careful breeding and selection by plant scientist Bob Young at the University of Massachusetts’ Waltham Field Station. Since then, the Waltham butternut has become the best-known and most-prized squash in North America.
A butternut’s bright orange flesh and sweet, nutty flavor shine in simple preparations: Just halve it lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, bake until tender, and mash with butter and salt. Or try it peeled, cubed, roasted, and tossed with walnuts and dried cranberries. Some chefs even serve it raw in soups or grated in salads for better nutrient retention. And nutritious it is, with boast-worthy amounts of beta carotene, vitamins A and C, iron, manganese, potassium, and more.
Allowed to mature on the vine, a butternut’s tough outer skin makes it a good candidate for winter storage. Butternuts will last three months or more in a basement or other cool, dry, well-ventilated space, ready to grace your dinner table all season long.