My husband is from far northern New England - up near the Canadian border with New Hampshire. So, as you might guess, maple syrup is a thing at our house. He loves to tell the tale about how, as a kid, he helped boil down maple sap from Sugar Maples, drizzle it on the late winter/early spring snow, and eat the hardened syrup taffy. He says it made him "sappy". I'll let that go for now.
We go through a lot of the sweet, amber-colored stuff. It originated with the indigenous peoples of that part of the country, and was actually used to preserve food through the winter. Boiling it down was originally done by adding hot rocks to the liquid. The first European accounts of maple syrup appeared about the time of Jacques Cartier's voyages in 1557. Early settlers followed the tradition, boiling the collected sap down in large metal pots over open fires.
Happily, Japanese Miso - fermented soy bean paste - pairs brilliantly with maple syrup, producing that incredible sweet/salty flavor combination. This combination works great with any sort of baked squash. Really. You'll be hooked. It's reminiscent of sea salt caramel.
Acorn squash are such a favorite here, that I usually buy two at a time. They keep well on the countertop for a couple of weeks, and when baked, it's easy enough to heat up the remaining half for dinner the next day.
Acorn squash is a hard, winter squash native to North and Central America, and was introduced to Europeans by Native Americans. They are generally baked, but can also be steamed (think: Instant Pot) or microwaved (I don't recommend unless you're simply reheating baked squash). These squash are pretty versatile, and they're delicious with the pulp scooped out, pureed and used as a soup.
You can get creative with flavors, too. Although the Maple-Miso thing is my fav, I've been known to head to the Indian Subcontinent and dust them with curry powder, or south of our border, and go with various chili powder combinations. These are a good source of dietary fiber and potassium, as well as smaller amounts of vitamins C and B6, magnesium, and manganese. The have a very low Glycemic Load and Index.
The seeds are edible, and when you've scooped the seed mass out before cooking, simply wash the fibrous parts away - I use a wire mesh colander for this, as I can press the seeds against the mesh - and bake the seeds for a healthy snack.
I caution you to be very careful when cutting up an Acorn Squash. Use a large chef knife, and carefully make a flat cut to remove the stem end. This gives you a flat, stable surface to safely cut against. Make sure that flat surface is resting securely on a cutting board. Now start a steady downward slice at the tip. You may need to give a few downward whacks - hammer-like - when the knife is fully embedded in the squash to get it all the way through. Another reason to always keep your knives very sharp.
To quarter the halves, turn the larger cut side face down on the cutting board, and proceed to cut quarters. This is knife skills 101. Always use a stable surface whenever possible before cutting. You can then, turn the halves or quarters 90 degrees and make one inch slices, if that's what you want.
Now, combine the miso and maple syrup. Since I keep my miso in the fridge, it's pretty cold and stiff. I warm it in the microwave for a few seconds, then add maple syrup. Stir to combine. For a whole squash, you'll want about one tablespoon of miso and about a half cup of maple syrup. I usually add a bit of granulated onion powder and/or Old Bay Seasoning. Brush this on the cut surfaces of the squash.
Put the squash on a baking sheet - and I recommend using parchment paper to keep clean up to a minimum - and bake in a 350 degree oven for 50-60 minutes. When a fork goes into the flesh easily, it's done.
The cooked squash is a great side/accompaniment for any number of meals. I often pair it with beans. As I said at the outset, my New England husband thinks that Boston Baked Beans on Toast should be written into the Constitution. Along with Cranberry Sauce.
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