HPNM

Winter Squash

When winter squash come to market, I know we’re not far from a hard frost, and my mind goes back to a dry October hillside on a failing farm in north Mississippi.

My father was a lawyer during the 50s and 60s in a rural county in north Mississippi. Money was never plentiful, but we had what we needed. We never had to buy firewood, we always had a freezer full of meat wrapped in white butcher paper, and a cupboard  stocked with some of the best home-canned foods in the South. Around Christmas, Daddy would go to the back door some nights and come back with bottles tightly wrapped in brown paper sacks.

In Octobers, when it was still hot and dry, he’d usher my sister, brother, and me into the car and drive out from Bruce to the Ellard community where an old man and his wife lived on a small farm. Across the road from their house, the slope of a small hill was covered with yellowing vines bearing winter squashes. We’d get out there and gather all we could carry, which wasn’t much, while Daddy sat on the porch with them with a glass of tea and talked.

Once after we left, I asked him why he didn’t pay the man. “Son, they wouldn’t take my money,” he said.

“Years back, their boy got into trouble, a lot of trouble. I did everything I could to keep him out of prison. But I couldn’t, and they understood. I never asked them for a penny. I knew they didn’t have it. But he’d feel bad if I didn’t come out and get these. It’s his gift, and you don’t turn down gifts from a man who doesn’t have much to give. It means more to me–-and him–-than anything anybody else would give me.”

The squash were acorns and yellow Hubbards; some were peeled, cubed, and parboiled for a casserole or pie. Others were split, seeded, usually scored, brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with brown sugar, and baked in a hot oven until soft and slightly singed. Once on the table, we’d scoop out the flesh with a spoon, put it on our plates and mash it with a fork, usually with a pat of butter.

When winter squash come to market, I know we’re not far from a hard frost, and my mind goes back to a dry October hillside on a failing farm in north Mississippi.

My father was a lawyer during the 50s and 60s in a rural county in north Mississippi. Money was never plentiful, but we had what we needed. We never had to buy firewood,

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