When was the last time you had a real conversation with another shopper at the grocery store? Everyone’s focused on filling their cart and getting out the door, although the occasional shopper might ask what you do with some exotic item you’ve just picked up off the shelf.
On the other hand, the conversations at local farmers markets are fascinating. Eavesdropping on the shoppers in line at the booth of Jackson Lowe Vegetable Farm, I heard one customer raving about an unusually sweet winter squash, the North Georgia Candy Roaster. This 2-foot long squash, pale pinkish-orange with occasional green stripes, looks almost like an overgrown banana. No wonder it generates conversation.
That particular customer wanted to know if she could save the seed and grow the squash herself. Her enthusiasm for the squash was contagious. Everyone in line wanted to take one home.
Adam and Mecca Lowe were drawn to this particular squash about three years ago because of their interest in growing southern heirloom crops. The North Georgia Candy Roaster is just one of the unusual winter squash they have for sale at their booths at the Marietta Square and Grant Park farmers markets.
Similar winter squash are called banana squashes and you can find seeds for a North Carolina Candy Roaster squash and for “pink banana” squashes. All similar, but with their own particular characteristics.
The Lowes planted two 250-foot rows of North Georgia Candy Roaster. The vines grow for 10 to 15 feet and each bears an average of only two squash per vine. Obviously it’s a plant that takes a lot of room, but the Lowes’ 60-acre Rockmart farm provides plenty of space for such a vigorous vine.
“For the homemaker, this had to have been a really valuable crop. You get a lot of squash and they keep forever,” said Mecca Lowe. Not only is the squash enormous, but the flesh is sweeter than any other winter squash I’ve tried.
“Each squash can grow to be 10 to 15 pounds, so it’s good that they keep really well. Last year we ate our last one in March,” she said.
For those who might be daunted by the size of the squash, she says a cut squash, wrapped in plastic wrap, will keep up to 10 days in the refrigerator. But instead of cooking a squash in pieces, she likes to go ahead and cook up the whole squash, puree it and then package it in recipe-sized portions for freezing.
She recommends the squash in pumpkin soup recipes and as a roasted vegetable prepared like any other winter squash. But her family’s favorite way to eat a North Georgia Candy Roaster is as a pie. “My husband really likes this pie, so much that we have one a week all winter,” she said.
At local farmers markets
6 p.m. Thursday, October 25. Chef Seth Freedman of Forage and Flame. East Atlanta Village Farmer’s Market, Atlanta. www.farmeav.com
9:30 a.m. Saturday, October 27. Chef Drew Belline from No. 246. Morningside Farmers Market, Atlanta. www.morningsidemarket.com
10 a.m. Saturday, October 27. Chef Asha Gomez of Cardamom Hill. Peachtree Road Farmers Market, Atlanta. www.peachtreeroadfarmersmarket.com
Vegetables, fruit and nuts: African squash, apples, arugula, Asian greens, beets, broccoli, broccoli raab, butternut squash, cabbage, chard, collards, cucumbers, dandelion, eggplant, endive, escarole, field peas, garlic, ginger, green beans, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, komatsuna, lettuce, mushrooms, mustard greens, okra, onions, pea shoots, peanuts, pears, pecans, peppers, persimmons, popcorn, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, sorrel, spaghetti squash, spinach, sweet potato greens, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turmeric, turnips and turnip greens, winter squash, yellow squash, zucchini
From local reports
Winter Squash Pie
Hands on: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 1/2 hours
This is Mecca Lowe’s recipe for North Georgia Candy Roaster pie. You can make this pie with any winter squash you have on hand, but if your squash is not as sweet as the North Georgia Candy Roaster, you may need to increase the sugar.
1 1/2 pounds winter squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 2-inch chunks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup skim milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 crust for 9-inch pie
Whipped cream, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large saucepan, arrange squash chunks and cover with water. Boil until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and put squash in bowl of a food processor. Add sugar and milk and pulse to puree squash. Add eggs, butter, flour, vanilla, cinnamon and ginger and process until smooth.
Pour squash filling into pie crust and bake 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean. Cool pie on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream if desired.
Per serving: 148 calories (percent of calories from fat, 36), 3 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 6 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 38 milligrams cholesterol, 115 milligrams sodium.