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The case of the speckled hound

You have to love a winter squash whose name is a portmanteau of iconic Sherlock Holmes tales. Take “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” and moosh it together with “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and you end up with a speckled hound squash: It tastes great, makes excellent soup and might  one day end up as a Masterpiece Mystery special starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Cooks: The Adventure of the Speckled Hound).  

If you have never seen a speckled hound (other than a spotted dog), stop by Paley’s Farm Market in Sharon, where Charlie Paley has bins full of them. They are one of his perennial favorites, and this year is apparently a big year for them.  

“I’m told there is a big crop of winter squash in most of new England and in southern states like Pennsylvania,” he said. 

His discovery of the deliciousness of the speckled hound was a bit of a fluke. 

“We grew some squashes for ornamental use but it turned out they’re fantastic to eat.”

Among his favorites are  blue hubbard, red kuri and the speckled hound (which looks like a Cinderella-style pumpkin, but with green streaks on the light orange-pink flesh).

“We have one called North Georgia Candy Rooster  that was a staple food for many American pioneers,” he said. “All of them were originally cultivated by the native Americans, brought to Europe and embraced as a great food that stores well.   

“Most people think of  acorn and butternut squash  in winter, but to me they pale in comparison with these heirloom varieties.”

The flesh is indeed quite a bit denser with these squash, and is very intensely colored, which generally indicates the presence of a lot of health-bestowing, cancer-fighting antioxidants. 

Like most of the orange and yellow vegetables they have a lot of beta carotene and they provide more than 50 percent of your daily recommended dose of vitamin A. Both help protect and strengthen your eyes; vitamin A is believed to help reduce your body’s allergic reactions to certain foods; and it’s supposed to strengthen your bones. 

Since this is the health page, here’s a health and safety tip: These dense squash can be very difficult to cut when they’re raw. You sometimes hear stories about people using axes and saws and hammers to try and cut them before cooking them. So, just don’t do that, please. Take all the shelves except one out of your oven and just put your squash on a cookie sheet lined with foil and bake it at about 375 degrees until it’s tender enough to cut; at that point it’s also much easier to peel off the outer flesh and to remove the seeds.  

It’s simple to serve a baked winter squash;  just mash it or serve it in slices and dress it with some maple syrup, some butter, some nutmeg or cinnamon. 

You can easily turn the cooked flesh into a yummy soup by sauteeing some onions and maybe some apples. Add the cooked squash (I’d say use maybe one large onion and one apple for half a large squash but it will still  taste good if you use more or fewer onions and apples). Add chicken stock and cook them long enough for the flavors to meld together a little bit (20 minutes minimum). Cool the ingredients and then whir them together in your food processor or blender. Season to taste (excellent with croutons and with roasted squash seeds).

If you’re feeling ambitious, try Paley’s own favorite soup recipe, which he got from a farm community in Lancaster, Pa., called Lancaster Farmacy. It’s a low-fat, vegetarian recipe but you can adapt it by using butter and chicken broth in places where they seem appropriate.

 

Speckled hound coconut soup

Adapted from
Lancaster Farmacy

Serves four 

 

One speckled hound squash, prebaked, flesh and seeds removed, cut into one-inch dice, one large onion, peeled and chopped, three garlic cloves, minced, 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated,1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon curry powder, 1 tablespoon plus 2 1/2 or more cups broth (vegetable or chicken), 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, coarse salt and freshly grated pepper to taste 

 

Heat one tablespoon of the broth in a medium soup pot and then cook the onion in the broth for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until translucent. 

Add the garlic and ginger, and continue to sauté for another minute. Add the turmeric and curry powder, then add the squash and broth and stir them all together. 

Bring it all to a boil on high heat,then reduce the heat until it’s just bubbling softly. Let it cook uncovered for about 10 minutes until all the flavors blend together deliciously. 

Let the broth and squash cool and then put them in a blender or food processor. Add a 6-ounce can of coconut milk. Blend until smooth, about a minute. Thin it with a little broth if you want. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reheat and add cilantro on top of each bowl just before serving.