How Not to Worry About Thanksgiving Plus a Couple Spins on Butternut Squash

For weeks now, I have noticed a tizzy developing in newspaper food sections, food sites on the web, and cooking shows about Thanksgiving which is–egad—next week, early this year. Many imply we are bundles of nervous anxiety about the big day.

For sure, Thanksgiving is a food holiday, and that will inevitably involve cooking, and if cooking isn’t part of a person’s life daily routine, then the holiday may occasion some worry. I suppose for the non-cook, the best bet is to buy a very decent bottle of wine, and a handsome bouquet of flowers, and find someone else to dine with. There are plenty of us show-offs who like to pile it on and need someone to help us eat it.

Mostly, Thanksgiving is about gratitude and tradition. I often thought on the holiday, that were Adrianna Bunker to walk into this house of hers that I now occupy, she would take one look at the table and know precisely what day of the year it was simply because of the menu spread on the table. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, squash, pickles, cranberry sauce, apple and pumpkin pies and once in a while a mincemeat one, too; it is a simple and classic menu, requiring very little in culinary finesse. And if from time to time a sweet potato dish shows up, or Brussels sprouts, or creamed pearl onions (which do not deserve to be scoffed at, especially if you make a rich cream sauce with real butter and cream, and a little bit of curry), then more the merrier.

Please be assured that if you can put a chicken into an into an oven, with or without stuffing, then you can manage a turkey which is just a bigger bird. All potatoes need really is boiling and mashing. Keep your vegetables simple: butternut squash boiled, mashed and sweetened with brown sugar or maple syrup is really very wonderful all by itself.

Steam broccoli if you want a green vegetable or make a tossed salad. If the famous green bean casserole is more your idea, then the ingredients are all heaped up at the end of some grocery store aisle and the recipe is plastered all over the packaging. Cranberry sauce comes in a can. Ask a guest to bring the pie, unless you like to make them. Also, there is a lot of pies for sale all over; you might find a church or civic group making dozens this time of year to support good causes. Go ahead and buy one if it isn’t your strong suit. Mainly, just take it easy and worry not. Be grateful for whatever blesses your life.

For those of us who like a chance to put a bit of a twist on things, or as my esteemed predecessor here, Brownie Schrumpf, used to say, “wrinkle,” in honor of the day, go right ahead and jazz it up. If that is what you want to do, then here are a couple of fairly straight forward and delicious things to do with winter squash.

I grow butternut squash and once in a while, butter cups, Hubbards, or kabochas, as well as acorns and delicatas. The butternuts are probably my favorites and this year they did very well. And if you don’t grow them yourself, they are easy to find in the store, at farmer’s markets or farm stands. They sometimes come peeled and cut up, both fresh and frozen.

Roasted Squash: The easiest wrinkle is to roast the squash. Heat the oven to 400 degrees, cube the squash, dribble with olive oil and toss until there is a little of sheen on the cubes, add minced garlic or not, and roast for fifteen to twenty minutes or until the squash has a little golden color and is fork tender. Cumin is a great addition to squash, and so is a little sprinkle of chili powder.

Squash with Dried Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds: The next wrinkle takes a few more steps. Once the squash is peeled and chopped up, merely boil it until tender, drain, reserving just about a cup or so if the liquid. Put a handful of dried cranberries in a small dish and pour the liquid over them to soften for about five minutes, then drain them. Mash the squash, adding butter and maple syrup or brown sugar to taste, then drain and toss in the cranberries, and mixing them in.

When you are ready to serve the squash, put it into a pretty serving dish and sprinkle some toasted sunflower or pumpkins seeds over the top. It is pretty, tastes good, and is easy going to put together.

Looking for…Carol Taylor in Frankfort wrote “in hopes that you or your readership might be able to help me out with a particular recipe called Apple Pie Cake.” She thinks it might have been featured on the cooking segment of the 207 television show a few years ago. Does this sound familiar to anyone and if you have the recipe, would you share it?

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.