Here at Table to Table, we’re accustomed to last minute windfall food donations – so no one even flinched when 13,000 pounds of butternut squash was offered to us by one of our donor produce distributors. Our staff and drivers jumped into action to accommodate this wonderful bounty, and plans went into motion to distribute the product to the recipient agencies we serve in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic counties.
Let’s start from the beginning with some facts about the now ubiquitous butternut squash. Requiring a long growing season, seeds are planted in late spring and mature squash are harvested in the fall. Its thick, tough outer skin and firm flesh contributes to its long storage of several months. Butternut squash is grown in almost every state in the US, with Michigan, New York and California growing the most. Nutritionally, it is a good source of fiber, and vitamin A, and has more potassium than a banana (which helps maintain a healthy blood pressure). The butternut’s versatility and many uses has resulted in its jump in popularity in recent years.
From the farm, the crop ends up being sold in a variety of ways – its path to Table to Table most likely takes it through a wholesale market, in this case, Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, NY, where it is bought by our donor. Having sold all they were able to sell to their customers, and not wanting to store the remainder in their warehouse, the produce distributor donates the remaining squash to Table to Table to be used locally by our neighbors in need.
Once we get the call our first step is to determine which of our 168 recipient agencies can use whole, raw butternut squash. From past experience, our staff is able to single out those agencies who can distribute the product to families and to facilities where food preparation is offered (agencies providing food for people who are homeless or who those without access to a kitchen, would not be candidates for this donation).
Shortly after this recent butternut squash donation, we reached out to a few recipient agencies to ask how it was used by their constituents. Hunger Free Bayonne distributes fresh produce weekly, and heard quite a bit of feedback from those who received the squash. The most popular methods of preparation keep it simple – toss cubed squash with olive oil, herbs, and salt and pepper, and roast in the oven until browned and cooked through, or make into soup either as a creamy, pureed one, or a hearty, chunky one by adding assorted vegetables.
Another recipient agency we serve is Bright Side Manor, a non-profit assisted living senior housing facility in Teaneck. Hugo Medrano, Director of Food Service, prepares the squash in a number of ways, the most popular roasted with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, or baked with brown sugar, cinnamon and butter. And at the yearly fall Harvest Fest at our Mobile Market in the Ironbound section of Newark, we can always count on an innovative usage for the butternut squash.
Aside from the variety it adds to the diets of the people who receive our food, there is quite a bit of fun and challenge involved for the Table to Table staff when unexpected donations are received. Not only is it rewarding to be able to rescue perfectly good food from going to waste, but we welcome the opportunity to be able to provide this abundance to the families, children and seniors in our area that can use it the most. We never know when the next unscheduled donation call will come our way. Whether it’s cooked hams or frozen turkeys we’re always ready and waiting.
Now what do we do with that ton of papayas that just came in????