Butternut squash, you amaze me.

I plant you inside each spring with the tomatoes and melons, and I watch you leg up and leaf out and get big. When the frost danger passes I set you out in the garden, mound you up with compost and dirt and worms, and let you do your thing. You get wild and long and unwieldy, and for a moment I think about hemming you in, cutting you back, but then I remember your fruit and hesitate.

Because what other vegetable can see us through til March, April, May?

Nobody, that’s who. Just you.

And so I let you take over the lawn, and the blueberry patch, and even the woodpile behind the shed. I don’t mind stepping over you to get to the mulberry tree, or bending over you in order to pick through the briers to the raspberries, and I say nothing when you throw a seed to the compost and start growing a friend. I let you sprawl down the hill, crawl into the strawberries and the beans.

And then when the time comes, I watch your vines wither and dry and start counting my haul. I let your skin harden, let your coloring blush to orange from green, and pull you up from the dirt, gently. I wipe you down, lay you out, put you in a sunny window, and leave you there to collect your thoughts for a few weeks, basking. Once you’re cured, I bring you downstairs, and then from October through February I forget you.

I’m sorry.

But when I remember — when the fennel and the Brussels sprouts and the flashy citrus run out, I am grateful, really. You are the dogged, the honest, the true — the lone soldier marching on to see us through.

I try to honor you.

I bake you into butternut squash brownies (so moist!) and puree you with apples and cumin and onions for a rich, velvety bisque. I whip you with eggs for pies and mix you into yogurt for a snack, and I peel you and cube you for gratins and hearty vegetable soups.

But mostly, I keep you plain. It seems in keeping with your character, your beliefs, your aims. I dice you up carefully, cut away your skin, and throw you into a pot to boil til you’re tender. Then I drain you, pull out a whisk, and drop in a pat of butter and a glug of maple syrup. If you’re dry, I’ll add milk, but otherwise, that’s it.

You’re honest, easy, and simple. We love you this way, and I have a feeling you’re rather pleased too.

 

Whipped butternut squash

This is not so much a recipe as a recommendation. Our butternut squash from last fall are the only winter squash still holding firm, but this would work just as well with any other variety.

 

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons butter

up to 1/3 cup milk or cream

maple syrup to taste

salt to taste

 

Put the squash in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until soft, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Drain the water from the pot and add the butter. Whip, using a whisk, until the butter melts and the squash is smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add a bit of milk or cream.

Season with maple syrup and salt to taste. Serve immediately.

If you have extra, this puree makes an excellent addition to plain yogurt the next day. I also like to add a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg.