By Cheryl Fusco Johnson | November 8, 2021

When I was a young pup, working as a proofreader for a large engineering company in Seattle, a silver-haired science fiction author who moonlighted there as an editor told me his secret for staying young. “Keep learning new things,” he said, “and you’ll never grow old.” Today I’m more than a decade older than he was then—and silver-haired myself—but I still try to heed his advice.

Visiting the Fairfield Farmers Market is always a treat, especially in autumn, harvest season, when the produce is prodigious and beautiful. Baskets of apples, bags of pears, truckloads of pumpkins. Just looking at the varied textures, colors, and shapes of locally grown foods feels nourishing. Wandering from booth to booth, making purchases, and admiring the cornucopias spread out before me, I realized recently I couldn’t name all the winter squashes I saw. Butternuts, pumpkins, and acorns—I recognize and often cook those. (The white ghost pumpkins surprised me, though.) I spotted three other squashes I couldn’t identify. Ah, I realized, I can learn something new here. After chatting with a couple of vendors, I dropped three new-to-me squashes into my white string bags: delicata, spaghetti, and ambercup.

Spaghetti squash is yellow, oblong, and bigger than an American eggplant. Some people serve it under tomato sauce as a pasta substitute. Raised in an Italian-American family where Mom made pasta from scratch and home-canned sauce from tomatoes raised in Dad’s garden, I couldn’t travel far enough from my roots to try this myself. Instead, I altered a spaghetti squash stir-fry recipe that I found online.

Roasting this squash is easy. It’s fun to scrape the cooked strands out of its shell. My concoction of beet greens, spaghetti squash, garbanzos, and lime juice was edible. Barely. Too many substitutions? Maybe. At the market a few weeks later, I saw Joey Katz selling hand-painted tea towels and totes. We discussed spaghetti squash. She’s had good success using it as the base for a puree composed of cooked butternut squash thinned with coconut milk and seasoned with cinnamon. That’s what I’ll try next—once my sweetie’s had time to forget my spaghetti squash stir-fry fiasco.

Meanwhile, delicata squash quickly became my standby veggie. I’ve served it three times already and now have a mound of it stacked on my countertop. Shaped like a fat cucumber, the delicata sports green stripes against an ivory background. It’s high in potassium, fiber, and vitamin C, and it’s super easy to prepare. Slicing it open is a far less fraught endeavor than dissecting sturdier winter squashes, like acorn and butternut. Also, delicata skin is edible and tasty. No peeling necessary! When a delicata is roasted, its skin provides a little crunch that contrasts beautifully with its creamy golden flesh.

I happened to serve delicata to a dinner guest who’d recently adopted a paleo eating regimen. From him, I learned that this squash is lower in carbs than acorns and butternuts. The ambercup is low carb, as well, and I’m planning to cook my first one tonight.

Now that I’m learning more about locally grown winter squash, it’s even more of a treat to shop at the Fairfield Farmers Market. I’ve noticed two other new-to-me squashes to try. (I’ll still cook my old standards, butternut, pumpkins, and acorns, too.)

With gift season rapidly approaching, I’m spending more time browsing crafters’ booths. Aged bourbon maple syrup, colorful knitted hats, carved wooden bowls—local crafters have tables bursting with beautiful handmade goods. If I take the time to chat with a crafter or two, maybe I’ll learn something new.

Fairfield Iowa indoor farmer's market starts November 6th, 9am to 1pm. Located at Golden Magnolia Sanctuary 200th South Main Street Fairfield Iowa (Presbyterian Church) lower level.




Meet the Author

Photo of Cheryl Fusco Johnson

Cheryl Fusco Johnson

Formerly a radio show host and creative writing teacher, I’m captivated by how people express their creativity via the arts, crafts, recreational pursuits, and entrepreneurship.