Winter squash caramel
Draft of 2008.09.16 ☛ 2015.06.15
The local (Michigan, or even just Midwestern) winter squashes are coming available in the local produce markets. Mexican winter squash is never hardened off enough, and lacks a sweet dryness that’s necessary for the way we cook it.
Which is: Cut the winter squash (butternut, acorn, delicata) in half, remove seeds, place face-down on a cookie sheet coated liberally with peanut oil, cook at 400°F until brown burned crap comes out around the edges.
Here’s the trick (one even my loving wife doesn’t understand or appreciate): Eat the brown burned crap.
As far as I can see, that’s the sugary juice of the squash, expressed and deep-fried in the peanut oil around the flesh of the vegetable as it desiccates and cooks. The natural sugars toast, then burn in the oil. They make caramel. Not like the crap you get from cane or beet sugar. Delicious squash caramel. Good enough, and flavorful enough, that you should eat even the black puffy crunchy stuff.
No, really: try it. Bitter? Yes. But bitter in a delicious way.
[At this point I walk back over to the stove and scrape more black burned squash juice chips off the pan, and then reach in with my hands and pick them off and stuff the tiniest fragments into my mouth.]
This is good. This is Autumn, distilled and purified. Browned, the flavor of senescence and comfortable decline. The sweetness of memory, the bitterness of unavoidable demise, the promise of stockpiled provender, of things set aside and kept long after the world sleeps—long after that ephemeral green crap of Spring and Summer can even be wistfully recalled.