Tradition dictates that butternut squash and other hard squashes be baked, mashed and ignored as everyone fights over who gets seconds of the ham.
But squashes like the butternut's ancestors have been at the center of American tables far longer than it's been America. As long ago as 3,000 years B.C., peoples native to Central America were eating the vegetable they called "the apple of the gods."
It made colonial Americans' lives easier because the hard-shelled squashes kept well into winter in a root cellar with potatoes and cabbages. Now, it's most likely found pureed, by itself, in soups or stuffing homemade ravioli.
Skin deep: Related to both cucumbers and melons, butternut squashes owe their longevity to their remarkable skins, which allow the squash to "breathe" enough to avoid rotting.
Hammer helper: Don't struggle to pierce the butternut's tough hide. Find a helper, or use a mallet to hammer a kitchen knife through the tough gourd.
Forget the traditional oven and use a charcoal-fired kettle grill instead, basting in butter and maple syrup. Consider serving the pretty result in slices, because it has enough character to stand on its own.
Hickory-smoked butternut squash
1 butternut squash
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup hickory chunks or chips, soaked in water
Light two quarts of charcoal for a kettle-style grill, like a Weber.
Split squash lengthwise into identical halves. Scoop out seeds and soft, stringy flesh.
Score squash about 1/4 inch deep, if desired, with a sharp knife.
Heap lit charcoal on one side of kettle.
Add syrup or honey and butter to squash's cavity, add salt and pepper to taste, and place on grill rack, on side away from coals. Prop up the neck, if necessary, so basting juices run back into the cavity.
Drop the wood on the lit coals and close the lid.
Baste after butter melts, about 10 minutes, and every 10 minutes until the squash is soft and pierces easily with a fork or skewer, about 45 minutes.
Scoop out of the skin and mash to serve, or offer your eaters slices.
ON THE WEB: To watch a video of this dish being prepared, go to buffalonews.com.