When Beckham Sharpe and his family switched from growing tobacco to growing produce on their Kentucky farm more than a decade ago, they made a big deal each fall out of pumpkins and giant crooked-neck gourds called cushaws, which many people used as seasonal decorations. in their patios and gardens. porches
But, as Sharpe soon realized, some of her customers, particularly those “of the older generation, 75 to 90 years old,” she says as she fills orders for half-bushel boxes of produce at the farm. buying cushaws just for show.
They bought them to eat, especially as a main ingredient in stews and pies at this time of year.
“They put brown sugar, butter and cinnamon on them,” says Sharpe. “I have a great-aunt who does that for us every year.”
It turns out that the older generation is the keeper of lore about the ancient Kentucky delicacy known as cushaw, which, when stewed or baked and pureed, has a similar (but lighter) color and texture to pumpkins.
“Cushaws were the only pumpkins most Kentucky farmers bothered to grow when I was a kid a hundred years ago,” jokes Georgia Green Stamper of Lexington, who grew up on a farm in Owen County and is the author. from the essay collection. Butter in the Morning: Pieces of a Kentucky Life. “My mother, and most camp cooks, in my experience, removed the shell and gently stewed the innards. The mother then drained it and removed the cooked mushy consistency to a saucepan and covered it liberally with sugar and butter, cinnamon, etc., and baked it until bubbly, lightly browned on top.
While not as familiar on holiday tables as they once were, cushaws are still grown and eaten on Kentucky farms and remain available at farmers markets and some grocery stores each fall and early winter.
At Dyer Farm in Sharpsburg, Kentucky, for example, Laura and Sid Dyer sometimes plant cushaws between rows of corn. “It saves space in the field, and the corn shades them so they don’t burn,” says Laura Dyer, who sells cushaws at Lexington farmers markets. “I like to put grated cushaw in my pie crust, which makes the pie moist.”
The Cushaws make their biggest impression, perhaps, on a cake.
baking cushaw pie
“It’s like pumpkin pie, but better,” says Lexington cookbook author Barbara Harper-Bach, 82, whose “The Pure Kentucky Pie Clinic” features a recipe for cushaw pie. “In the 1970s, when I was raising kids, someone brought me a cushaw and I thought, what the hell is that? that? I had to go to the library to look for it. I made the pie and told my kids it was a pumpkin pie, because I didn’t think they would eat something called cushaw. And they said it was the best pumpkin pie they’d ever had. And that’s exactly why we’re still doing it today.”
To make the cake, Harper-Bach scrubbed a medium yellow cushaw from Sharpe’s farm (at his suggestion, I selected the 12-pound cushaw with a thicker neck, which is where most of the pulp is) with a brush to vegetables. Keeping the shell, she cut the cushaw into large chunks, scooped out the seeds (which can be saved and replanted next season), then roasted the “meat” of the cushaw, as she calls it, with a drizzle of olive oil in a pan. skillet. for about 90 minutes at 350 degrees.
She then popped the tender meat right into a food processor, pureed it, then pressed it into a metal strainer to drain. She released a surprising amount of moisture in a container in the refrigerator overnight, so much moisture that she had to empty the container twice.
“The secret to making the puree is that you have to strain it overnight,” says Harper-Bach. “It has tons of water in it, so if you don’t strain it, your cake will be soggy. I googled a bunch of cushaw pie recipes, and none of them mentioned straining them overnight. If you didn’t do that, you wouldn’t have the concentrated flavor you’re looking for.”
The process of making a good cushaw pie from scratch is time consuming, she admits. “Any time you cook from scratch, it’s a little more time consuming than if you just buy it in a can or whatever,” she says. “But I’ve been trying to educate people for years to cook from scratch because it saves a lot of money and the results are so much better. And the proof is in the pudding.”
So it was. Harper-Bach’s cushaw pie, slightly modified from her “Pure Kentucky Pie Clinic” recipe (she used half and half instead of heavy cream and cut the amount of white sugar in half) was much less dense and somewhat sweeter than the traditional pumpkin pie. The custard filling was a light golden brown, sprinkled with spices, like a pumpkin pie but better.
“It’s not quite as orange as pumpkin pie, but it’s enough to fool the youngsters,” Harper-Bach says with a smile as she scoops up a slice. “You don’t even need whipped cream or eggnog ice cream, which I suggest in the cookbook. It’s just as damn good as it is.”