A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get to go on a local farm tour at the Tutti Frutti organic farmstead near Santa Barbara, California. Tutti Frutti is owned and operated by Chris Cadwell, an organic farmer whose mainstays are heirloom tomatoes and winter squash, but he also grows beautiful heirloom varieties of bell peppers and eggplants. We roamed around the vast property and learned about the challenges of organic farming in southern California, which can be especially difficult due to the intensity of the heat and the scarcity of water.
They use landscaping fabric around the base of each plant to keep the moisture from evaporating from the soil and utilize a drip irrigation system, which is a grid of soft plastic tubes that run along each row of plants. There is a small hole in the tube near the base of each plant, so they can control the amount of water that drips out and for how long, which significantly cuts down on the amount of water that evaporates in the heat and increases the amount that is actually being soaked up by the plants’ roots.
The other issue they have to contend with are pests, and unfortunately once there is a crop invasion, they have to let that crop go for the season since there isn’t a truly effective organic pesticide in the marketplace (I tried every natural solution to get rid of the pesky grey aphids in my broccoli last winter and absolutely nothing worked, so I know this to be true). It is because of this kind of crop risk that the price for organic produce is slightly higher, but they value the health of their workers (long-term exposure to pesticides for farm workers can be deadly, read Tomatoland if you’re interested), and the ecology around the farm, and would rather take a crop-loss risk than have chemical-laden water run-off go into the surrounding tributaries and soils.
Tutti Frutti is one of the many local organic produce suppliers that Vons Safeway uses to stock their produce shelves, and it was really interesting to get to stop at the grocery store afterwards and see the produce we’d seen earlier at the farm on shelves in the city. It was refreshing to know that a large grocery store chain was making an effort to use local and sustainable produce whenever possible (they’ve partnered with over 130 local farms in the southern California area). It really helps the local economy and keeps the areas outside the city lush with fields of green.
So at the end of the day at the farm, we were sent home with a basket full of produce, and luckily for me and my squash-obsessed heart, it included a large assortment of tasty winter squash varieties. I decided to use the Sweet Dumplings for teeny individual pies, but you could use any small sweet winter squash for this recipe (especially our good friend, the sugar pumpkin), just make sure they stay within the weight range. I am planning on making these again closer to Halloween, since they have such a lovely browning on them after they’re roasted, and might drizzle a raspberry syrup over the top for a slightly spooooooky effect. Hope you’re all enjoying the squash of the season as much as I am!
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the tops off the squash and use a strong metal spoon to scoop out the stringy pulp and seeds. Place the squash, with caps set back on, on a baking sheet and roast for 30-35 minutes, or until the flesh is soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until safe to handle.
Use a metal spoon to gently scoop the flesh out of the squash and into a blender, leaving about 1/4-1/2 inch of flesh on the inside the squash to keep the skin from breaking. Add the remaining ingredients to the blender and blend at high speed until the mixture is completely smooth.
Raise the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Evenly distribute the mixture between the three hollowed-out squash and place in the oven (without the caps). Bake for 40-55 minutes, or until the filling is set. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature, garnish with whipped cream and serve with caps on.