Last updated: November 26. 2013 9:16AM - 749 Views

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner. If you’re like me, you are already thinking about those foods you will serve or eat. I have already prepared batches of “Mama’s Sweet Potato Pudding” and placed it in the freezer for Thanksgiving and Christmas. All I need to do now is thaw and bake this traditional family dessert.

Your family members may each have special foods they would like to see on the Thanksgiving dinner table. I encourage you to consider winter squash. Why? For starters, it’s delicious, nutritious, easy to prepare, and available locally. I visited the Robeson County Farmers Market on Eighth and Elm streets last week and found butternut and acorn squash as well as a variety of other produce that can be included in your Thanksgiving meal.

What is winter squash? It is actually a gourd belonging to the same vine family as cucumbers and melons. Squash has been used as a food in North America for thousands of years. There are several varieties, including the acorn, butternut, hubbard and spaghetti squash. My favorite is the butternut.

Winter squash is loaded in nutrients. Just one serving of winter squash provides beta-carotene, vitamin C, niacin, iron, calcium, potassium and fiber. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A and is critical for vision, helping your immune system and fighting free radicals. One serving of winter squash can provide more than 200 percent of your daily need of vitamin A. How could you not consider this nutritious and delicious food?

Baking winter squash is easy. Start by scrubbing/rinsing the outer hard rind with a vegetable brush. If baking it whole, pierce the skin with a knife to allow steam to release during baking. A medium squash should take around one hour to bake whole at 350 degrees F. Then peel and remove the seeds. Alternatively, you can cut the raw squash in half, remove the seeds, then bake. Brush with a little olive oil if using this method. You can also peel and cube before baking. Choose the method that suits you best. I find it is easier for those with arthritis to start by baking the squash whole.

Another reason to eat winter squash is its delicious versatility. It can be prepared savory or sweet or some combination of both. You can bake it with a little butter and sugar or honey on top. You can go for a savory soup with onions and spices. How about adding some apples and cinnamon in the mix?

For recipe ideas on cooking winter squash, contact Janice Fields, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 910-671-3276, by email at janice_fields@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/.

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