I have a weekend adventure in eating to recommend to you. But you’ll have to bear with me as I go off on one of my “gentle rants” first.

One of my favorite things about having a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)–besides eating corn on the cob the same day it’s picked and hearing about how the weather and conditions on an actual farm has impacted the food I am putting into my mouth right now–is getting to try foods I have never even heard of.

As I have become aware of the shrinking diversity in our readily available whole foods–and the increasing health issues we now face because of it–I have become even more grateful for heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits which are being re-introduced to the public through the efforts of organic growers and seed savers.

Here’s a short summary of the issue we face:

Even though we are offered what seems an astonishing variety of foods in the supermarket today, the actual number of species available in the modern diet is shrinking drastically. The economics of food processing requires that just a tiny group of plant species — corn and soybeans chief among them — make up the majority of Agri-biz offerings. That’s right: a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat.

This is all about monoculture farming:

A farming system given over exclusively to a single product. Its advantages are the increased efficiency of farming and a higher quality of output. Disadvantages include a greater susceptibility to price fluctuations, climatic hazards, and the spread of disease. [~Answers.com]

Historically humans consumed some 80,000 edible species with 3,000 in widespread use, so this radical simplification of the food web is danger of the highest magnitude. The vast monocultures of little or no plant species diversity now feeding this nation require tremendous amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep from collapsing. It’s not hard to conclude that we cannot get everything we need from a diet consisting largely of processed corn, soybeans, wheat and rice.

What’s the answer to this Science of Nutrition monoculture eating? It’s simple enough, and something that you can control — get more varieties of whole foods in your meals!

- We Want Organic Food

I’m not even remotely an expert on this topic, but if you want to watch a documentary that delves into the economics behind this trend at a deeper level, click here to watch The Future of Food. You will likely be astonished. And perhaps alarmed. Angered. I certainly was.

This is why I am so grateful to HogsBack Farm for giving me the opportunity to discover the delights of Delicata Squash. When I tried it last year, I couldn’t believe what I had been missing all these years.

Delicata squash

From the HogsBack newsletter 2009, Week 17:

The delicata is always a favorite with folks so we try to plant enough of it. Last year the plants yielded about 4.9 squash per plant, so I planted more of it this year so we’d have enough. This year the plants yielded about 7.8 squash per plant even though the weather was very similar to last year. That’s a 60% increase in yield, and I have no idea why. That’s why this job never becomes boring. Nature is never boring. I have a couple of ideas as to why the delicata did so well, but anytime you have multiple factors, it’s hard to discern which one made the difference.

So what to do with your delicata bounty? These beauties are excellent baked. I usually quarter the large ones or halve the small ones, scrape out the seeds and bake in a 375° oven for 45–60 minutes or until they’re nice and soft. Sometimes I add a teaspoon of butter to each one about halfway through, or even a little coconut oil at the end. Delicata are very thin-skinned and are one of the few squashes whose skin you can eat. Sometimes I scrape the flesh out of the squash, but sometimes I just eat them like I’m eating a piece of toast, skin and all. They’ll keep fine on your counter for a few weeks.

Slice one delicata squash into 3/8-inch rings. With a spoon scoop out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and roast in a single layer on a heavy baking sheet for 10-15 minutes. Flip and cook for a few more minutes, until the rings are tender and slightly brown. Soy sauce or balsamic vinegar can be a nice addition to this. Eat them straight from the oven, skin and all.

Crispy Delicata Squash Rings

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Slice one delicata squash into 3/8-inch rings. With a spoon scoop out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and roast in a single layer on a heavy baking sheet for 10-15 minutes. Flip and cook for a few more minutes, until the rings are tender and slightly brown. Soy sauce or balsamic vinegar can be a nice addition to this. Eat them straight from the oven, skin and all.

And here are a couple of recipes and excerpts from elsewhere on the web:

Delicata is an heirloom squash that I first tried when I joined a CSA.  Since it’s an heirloom veggie, it’s grown for flavor and not for mass-shipping; the thin skin of this squash made it harder to transport thousands of miles from where it was grown. Consequently it has been largely ignored for the last 75 years or so.  It’s gaining popularity now, so you have a good chance of finding it at your local store or farmers market.

The thin skin is a great asset, in my opinion.  It makes it easy to prepare (you don’t need an axe and and a tree-stump to cut up this squash), and you can even leave the skin on and–get this–eat it after baking! But besides the skin, the flesh is golden, sweet, and smoothly-textured.  It’s perfect for just baking, or blending into a lovely silky bisque.

- Vegan Yum Yum

Since we also got arugula in our share this week, I want to try this delicious-looking creation from California Olive Ranch:

Delicata Squash Rings with Arugula, Cranberries and Feta

Squash Ring Arugula Salad

And now, finally, is your recommended weekend adventure in eating!

Try just one brand new veggie over the next few days.

If you don’t know how to do that, I suggest the following:

1. Walk into one of our fab food co-ops.

2. Pick out a veggie you don’t recognize.

3. Ask someone working there what you should do to prepare it.

4. Go home and make the vegetable.

5. Eat it.

6. Report back to Rachel on what you tried.

7. Voila! Take pride in your accomplishment!

Have a great weekend, friends.