One Sunday a month throughout my childhood, my family would attend Family Night Supper at our church. It was a time of community, of fellowship…and of competition. Because Family Night Supper was a potluck dinner, the ladies of the church showed off their cooking skills by bringing their signature dishes–their congealed chicken salads, artichoke dips, and pecan pies–each platter or pan carefully monitored to see whose dish was being devoured and whose was left untouched.
There was one dish that I could never figure out, a homely, golden substance that everyone seemed to like, including me. I got up the courage one night to ask the lady who brought it what it was, and when she said “Cushaw,” I didn’t know whether to say “Thanks” or “Gesundheit.”
I think I eventually worked out for myself that a cushaw was similar to a pumpkin, but I didn’t really know exactly what it was until another lady at a roadside produce stand in Mississippi explained to me what the gourd-shaped, orange or green-striped squashes were. Thank goodness for the helpfulness of Southern ladies!
Since then, I’ve cooked with cushaw every fall, using it in everything from pumpkin pie to pumpkin-apple butter to apple-pumpkin delight. (As you can probably guess, cushaw is excellent in any pumpkin recipe–I would say even better than pumpkin because it’s sweeter and has more edible flesh than seeds and strings.) All these dishes were delicious, but none of them ever tasted like the church-lady’s cushaw, which I admit I remember only hazily, through the golden glow of nostalgia. So I set about looking for that cushaw recipe in my Louisiana cookbooks. And what I discovered revealed why I could never quite recreate that dish: 1/2 pound butter, 2 cups sugar, 2 eggs…. Those are the non-cushaw ingredients of all Louisiana Baked Cushaw recipes.
Maybe someday I’ll try my hand at creating a vegan version of that childhood memory, complete with vegan margarine and loads of sugar, just to see if it lives up to my recollections. In the meantime, I made something quite a bit less fat- and sugar-laden. In fact, the only sugar in my version comes from dates, though most people will want to sweeten it up a little more, either with maple syrup or with a natural sugar substitute such as stevia or xylitol. It doesn’t taste like the decadent dessert of my childhood, but it’s still satisfyingly homely. If you don’t have cushaw (and how many of you do?) you can use pumpkin or any winter squash.
Pumpkin, Squash, or Cushaw Bake
- 3-4 pounds pumpkin, cushaw, or other winter squash
- 1/2 cup chopped dates about 5 medjool dates, pitted
- 1 tablespoon tapioca starch or cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- sweetener of choice to taste
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 2 tablespoons walnuts toasted (optional)
Use a 3-4 pound pumpkin or squash or cut off a 3-4 pound section of a larger squash. Cut in half and scrape out any strings and seeds from inside. Cut into pieces no bigger than 2 inches thick.
Place in a steamer basket fitted into a large pan over about an inch of water. Cover and steam until squash is tender when poked with a knife, from 20-30 minutes depending on size. Remove from heat and allow to stand, covered, until cool enough to handle. (You can also steam it in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot; the time will depend on the thickness of the squash. Start with 5 minutes at high pressure and allow pressure to naturally release. If your pumpkin is very thick, cook under pressure for 8-10 minutes.)
- Once the pumpkin/squash is cool, peel each piece with a sharp knife.
Preheat oven to 400F and prepare a medium-sized casserole dish by lining with parchment paper or rubbing with a couple of drops of oil.
- Place the dates in a food processor, and pulse until they are well-chopped. Add the peeled pumpkin, and blend well. Add all remaining ingredients except raisins and blend.
- Taste the mixture. If it is not sweet enough to your taste, add your choice of sweetener until it is to your liking. If you are not watching sugar intake, brown sugar or maple syrup are delicious. If you want a low-sugar version, stevia is a good natural sweetener. (I used three tiny scoops of stevia.) Once it is sweetened to taste, pour it into the prepared casserole, stir in the raisins, and smooth the top.
- Bake until water has evaporated and top is browned, about 40 minutes if you did not add a liquid sweetener. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts, if desired. Serve warm or chilled.
Nutritional data includes walnuts. If you leave them out, the fat is only .88 per serving.
Other Blogs, Other Cushaw Recipes
- Kittee makes Kitchen Sink Lentil Soup with leftover cushaw
- The Novice Chef shows how to clean and use it
- …and that’s all I could find! If you’re a blogger and have a recipe with cushaw, please let me know. And if you haven’t cooked with cushaw, consider growing some in your garden next summer. Their seed is becoming very popular with heirloom seed companies.