I remember the first time in the big US supermarket: the shiny apples, yellow bananas, tomatoes in different shapes and colors and then, those things. Big, green, yellow, orange, brown and everything in between. It looked like a fall display on a classroom table. Shaped like melons, pears, even a bit like a humongous acorn. What are these things?
I read the signs: spaghetti squash, acorn squash (see, I could have figured that one out!), winter squash. Then I see one I recognize: zucchini or Italian squash. My mind goes in overdrive: what does the word ‘squash’ mean? Does it come from ‘squeezing’, ‘to squash’? What are you supposed to do with these things? Preparing this by mushing it all up? I think the Italian squash looks like what we call courgette and we used to slice it up and stir-fry it with other veggies in a delicious pasta or rice dish.
Puzzled, I decide to look it up as soon as I get home and in the meantime I search for familiar vegetables to make my stamppot boerenkool, hutspot or spruitjes.
But in this oasis of produce, I can’t find kale (this was 15 years ago, when kale just started to become known in this area), and the Belgium endive I know as witlof is extremely expensive as are the Brussels sprouts. I do find carrots and potatoes and onions and even a smoked sausage, so hutspot it is.
I did my research on the squash varieties, but could never get myself to actually buy one and prepare it myself. When it was served in a restaurant, or at friends, I really didn’t like the taste or texture of this new to me vegetable.
Kale became more and more popular and therefore more available (even although most Americans eat it way different that I do), as did the Brussels sprouts. Unfortunately, the Belgium endive is still way out of my price range, but I have hope. (Martha, if you read this, can you promote it in your shows and magazines, pretty please?)
But I have learned to love another typical Maine vegetable: the fiddle heads. They are also way out of my price range, but only my daughter and I really care for them, so we have it as a special side dish. You can taste the spring in every bite. It tastes a little bit like green asparagus (another vegetable I have learned to love, yet I still like the white asparagus better, however, I have only seen the white ones here in a jar or can, and please do not buy that! Yuck! Fresh white asparagus with ham and egg, or just good butter: oh my! So delicious!).
But better. And more ‘spring-like’. And ‘woodsy’ as ‘from the forest.’ It’s hard to describe, but there is something very satisfying about eating fiddle heads.
Fiddle heads come from the ostrich fern and are only edible when they are rolled up, resembling the shape of a fiddle head (or cello head for that matter!) You would think with so many ferns around my house, I could easily harvest them myself, but I am very reluctant. I have heard scary things about eating the wrong ones. I will just cough up the $4.99 and be safe.
Who would have thought veggies can be so different in countries that are otherwise fairly similar?
And honestly, I think most of the vegetables that grow in the Netherlands could grow in Maine, especially the winter vegetables like sprouts, endive, kale, red cabbage and leeks.
This year we finally have started a garden: currently with only herbs, potatoes, rhubarb and lettuce, but we hope to expand it to more winter vegetables next year.
Squash still won’t make it in my garden plan: you may keep that. Still don’t really know what to do with it.
I might grow some pumpkins to carve for Halloween and roast the seeds for my salads or snack.
In the meantime: eat your veggies!