Don't wait for winter to eat winter squash

Many varieties of "winter" squash are already piled high on the shelves at farmers' markets, roadside stands, and grocery stores. Among these are the individual-size green acorn, the green flat-top buttercup , the bell-shaped, buff-colored butternut, the golden oval-shaped spaghetti, and the large Blue Hubbard squash.

The range in size, color, and shape of winter squashes is perhaps the greatest of any family of vegetables.

Winter squashes have a delicate taste that can be enjoyed as a vegetable or in pies, casseroles, breads, and souffles. Often spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, or brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup, are added to enhance their natural flavor. Because of their hard rinds, winter squashes can be stored for long periods of time.

When buying squash, choose those that are heavy for their size and have hard, tough, unblemished rinds. Squash Apple Casserole 2 1/2 cups fresh squash, or pumpkin, cut in 1-inch chunks 1 1/2 cups cooking apples, pared, cut in 1 1/2-inch slices 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup brown sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 cup walnuts, pecans, or chestnuts, coarsely chopped Salt to taste

Prepare squash and apples. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter; combine with brown sugar, cinnamon, nuts, and salt.

Place a layer of squash in a 2-quart casserole dish; drizzle with butter and sugar mixture. Top with a layer of apples and drizzle with mixture.

Repeat till all ingredients are used. Dot with remaining tablespoon of butter. Cover casserole and bake in 350-degree F. oven for 45 to 60 minutes, or until both apples and squash are tender. Makes 4 servings.

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