All squash have their origins in the distant history of Mesoamerica, with estimates based on archeological evidence placing earliest cultivation between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago.  However the much beloved and widely consumed butternut squash originated in the notably less distant past, somewhere between Vermont and Massachusetts in the early 1940’s.

Such developments are only held in their proper esteem by very small circles of individuals so I will rely on the word of Mrs. Dorothy Leggett, widow of Charles A. Leggett of Stowe, Vermont as told to Phoebe Haberkorn of The Stow Independent.  Mrs. Leggett paints a picture of an accidental and somewhat grudging birth for the butternut squash.  Her husband purchased their home in northern Vermont and was forced to accept that the price of a country home was to own more than 90 acres of farm land.  Despite commuting into Boston for an insurance job, he apparently couldn’t stand to see good land go fallow, so after several failed experiments he settled on farming squash.  His experiments led him to cross the common gooseneck squash with other unspecified varietals until he finally arrived at the product we would all recognize today as the butternut.

Seeing the potential for his new variety, Leggett is reported to have brought some to the Waltham Field Station of the University of Massachusetts School of Agriculture where it found many admirers and was heartily embraced.  The staff at Waltham apparently became so involved in proselytizing for the new breed that it is often still known as the Waltham butternut squash.  Now, while there is a variety of nut, relative to the walnut, native to North America and called a ‘butternut,’ we again rely on Mrs. Leggett’s testimony that her husband bestowed the name based on his opinion that the new squash was smooth as butter and sweet as a nut.  I am happy to take her word for it.

The butternut squash is in fact both smooth and sweet.  After cooking and pureeing its rich orange flesh becomes silky and has numerous applications in the kitchen.  Beyond use as puree, the squash can be simply sliced and roasted – an approach that can create a pleasant contrast between a crispy exterior and creamy interior.

The best squash will lack a green tint in their skin and the best yields come from those with less pronounced ‘bulbs’ at their based.  The thin skin is, for a winter squash, relatively easy to remove and the majority of the interior is usable flesh.  Like all hard squash, butternut will keep for long periods of time and so, though harvested in the late fall and early winter, it is commonly available throughout the year.  Some even maintain that the squash improves – to a point – with age.  This may be, but it can also be argued that the best time to enjoy butternut squash is during its fall and winter harvest season.  With something so versatile, there are nearly endless opportunities for experimentation and enjoyment, however many classic dishes reflect the butternut squash’s natural affinity for brown butter, sage and apple.