Just take a look at the pumpkin family. Some are definitely a little weird. Take the butternut squash, for example. The name for this oddly shaped descendant of the musk pumpkin comes from its delicious sweet flavour. But don't LOL too loudly at its strange shape: as the name suggests, its orange flesh has a wonderful buttery nuttiness. Western cultures have started appreciating butternut squash through their acquaintance with more exotic cuisines and our Discovered butternut squashes are grown in exotic South Africa.
‘Baaahhhh!’ Yexi gets a bit of a disrespectful welcome at a farm near Ceres, a town in the south-western tip of South Africa. But it’s not grower Charl who greets us – it’s one of the many sheep wandering around the farm. Actually, says Charl, what we're running here is one business made up of four farms. ‘My grandfather, Tippie, bought the first farm in 1934. I joined him in 1967 and my brother Gijs came in five years later. By now, we've bought another three farms where we grow apples, pears, nectarines, plums and vegetables.’
‘And butternut squash', squawks Yexi who’s actually only interested in that curiously shaped squash. ‘And butternut squash', nods Charl with a smile. Charl leads us towards the fields where the squashes are soaking up the warm South African sun. Charl explains: ‘Butternut squash is a very popular vegetable in my country. Many growers like growing butternut squash because it fits very easily into their crop rotation programme. If you grow the same crop every year, you exhaust the nutrients in the soil. You can always grow butternut squash.’
Yes, it is important to the farmers in Ceres that their cultivation methods should follow the principles of Mother Nature. ‘It's nature that creates. All we can do is provide the right conditions’, said Charl, armed with the wisdom of a couple of generations. It sounds like a very sustainable approach. And they know all about it here. Charl: ‘My grandpa Tippie was an exceptional man – a man who believed in honest agriculture. He respected every living thing and valued honesty. This was way back in 1934. Today, we're proud that we still work how he wanted to work.’
The butternut squash seeds are planted early in October when the sun starts warming the soil in South Africa. All it takes is about three months; that’s all the time it takes for the squashes to reach their mature size. ‘And they're thirsty plants. Butternut squashes gulp water! Bottles full of the stuff,’ laughs Charl, referring to the Dutch name for these squashes: flespompoenen or 'bottle pumpkins'. Providing water for the squashes is hardly a job for human hands, however. The fields are covered with snakes! Yexi backs away, until he realises they’re drip irrigation hoses…
But what we really wanted to find out from our friendly host is how his own family eats butternut squash. ‘Hmm…what about baking them in the oven? And another way to prepare them is to simmer them in a little water to make a wonderful pumpkin soup.’ It's an easy vegetable to prepare. You don't even have to peel a butternut squash. And, if you can keep your hands off them, you can easily store a butternut squash for three months. So...who said this was such a weird member of the pumpkin family?
This is a lovely recipe for Butternut Bake, a popular dish in South Africa. It's often served as a side dish as part of the traditional South African barbecue known as a braai.