As I stand over my cutting board, using my modern knife to halve my petite Sweet Dumpling squashes, I wonder about the first person to stuff a squash. I know that her identity has long been lost to history. The oldest squash seeds were found in caves of Mexico's Tamaulipas mountains dating back to 5000 B.C.
Did those prehistoric cooks fill a squash with grains and seeds, and roast it on hot coals? I'd like to think so. They just didn't have a carbon steel knife, or Instagram to capture the moment.
The winter squash, with its bowl-shaped cavity, seems to beg for a tasty filling. Once you open it up and scoop out the seeds, you have a natural baking pan, ready to cradle a savory or sweet stuffing. Squash is truly indigenous food. By the time Columbus arrived, squash was flourishing in all the regions of the Americas, and historians agree that it would have been at the first Thanksgiving meal.
As you plan your Thanksgiving, I hope you'll make room for these cute little stuffed squash. They are hearty enough to be a main course for meatless diners, and can fit on a plate alongside turkey and mashed potatoes, too. Make sure to shop for the smallest squash you can find.
For this recipe, I used some small Delicata squash, which are a little more oval than round. Sweet Dumplings are the other variety that I often stuff. My strategy is to go through the bin for any squashes that are around 4 inches across, even acorns or miniature pumpkins. They all work.
Once you get your squash home, it's time to halve them and roast them. A tip for those of you who find it hard to cut the hard shell: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and put the whole squash on the baking pan and roast for 10 minutes. Take them out, let cool a bit, and you will find the shell softened just enough to make them easier to cut.
Take advantage of the ancient, natural form of the squash for a beautiful, edible baking dish. I, for one, am thankful to the original, indigenous cook for the inspiration.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of "Big Vegan," "The Whole Grain Promise" and "Great Bowls of Food." Find her at robinasbell.com.