#SquashFest2016: The Pre-Thanksgiving Warm-Up

Before sitting down to a turkey dinner, we celebrate this garden heavyweight in a tradition of our own making.

by Rachael Dupree
PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock

Fall is my favorite time of the year. After a record-breaking warm autumn, temperatures have finally reached an ideal level of crispness on our little Kentucky farm. The smell of applesauce cooking on the stove permeates through the farmhouse, and the anticipation of the winter holidays has come upon us. However, this weekend, while households across the country were purchasing their turkeys and breaking out their green-bean casserole recipes to prepare for this week’s Thanksgiving feasting, I was partaking in another tradition that celebrates the fall harvest: Squash Fest.

This almost-annual event was started by me and my friend who spend way too much time drooling over the pumpkin recipes that infiltrate our inboxes by food bloggers this time of year. The influx coincides seamlessly with the pumpkin and squash bumper, and thus Squash Fest was born. In the past, we’ve tried everything from squash flatbread and pumpkin coffee cake to curried squash ice cream (amazing) and earl gray pumpkin tea lattes (disgusting). This year, the menu lineup was epic: 10 recipes, 36 hours and four cooks. This was going to be a Squash Fest for the books!

Squash Game On!

Taking a cue from my dear husband, Mr. B, I created a spreadsheet for the event that was broken into two tabs: ingredients by type, which would help us determine how much of each we needed, and ingredients by recipe, so we could cross-reference the specific needs—for example, to make decisions like whether a recipe would be better suited to a butterkin squash or a delicata.

The Squash Fest participants highlighted the ingredients they could provide from their harvests or pantry stores on the “by ingredient type” tab, and then we pooled our financial resources for the remaining ingredients that needed purchased.

This, my friends, is the only way to do Squash Fest. When you live 20 minutes from the nearest grocery store, there will be no quick run to the supermarket if you fail to bring the butter. It’s important to get it right. If you’re ever to do your own version of Squash Fest, I’d also suggest bringing extras of the staples, as well: flour, eggs, sugar, etc. You never know when you’ll need to scrap a recipe and start over, and sometimes the person doing the ingredient calculations overlooks a few eggs that go in a recipe. (Guilty.)

The Recipes

With two Squash Fests under our belts, we went into this year like pros. There was some negotiating of the recipe lineup, but we settled on a menu we were happy with fairly quickly. And I hate to brag, but we chose well: Each and every dish was absolutely amazing! We had a hard time picking our favorites of the year, so we didn’t and just chalked it up to our impeccably good taste. Here’s a peek of what we cooked up. If you’re considering trying any of the recipes, you have my full support.

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Round 1: Cazuela de Vaca (Beef and Pumpkin Stew) and Pumpkin Cornbread

Squash Fest Round 1
Rachael Dupree

A hearty way to start our adventure, both of these recipes were delicious and perfect for a chilly autumn evening. The beef-and-pumpkin stew will surely be making appearances in my soup rotation this winter.

Recipes via All Recipes and Bless This Mess

Round 2: Pumpkin, Rye + Chocolate Babka and Drunken Pumpkin Cocktails

Squash Fest Round 2
Rachael Dupree

Let’s call this the round of the bread that would never end. The babka recipe took 5 hours from start to completion, and there were a few moments when we weren’t so sure it would actually make an appearance on the Squash Fest table at all. However, my trusty partner in crime—who has moonlighted in a Greek bakery, by the way—persevered and the results were deliciously rich and gooey. The cocktail—a first for Squash Fest—was basically a pumpkin-infused White Russian, and it helped ease the long bread-making process. While I’m not sure I’ll ever attempt the babka again, at least not on my own, this might have been my favorite round.

Recipes via The Bojon Gourmet and How To Feed A Loon

Round 3: Pumpkin Beer Bread French Toast and Sweet Annie Wedding Mead Mimosas

Squash Fest Round 3
Rachael Dupree

French toast is probably my favorite breakfast dish that requires syrup, so this was a must for kicking off Day 2. Unfortunately, pumpkin ales were pulled from the shelves by the time we got around to Squash Fest shopping, so we subbed in a Cappuccino Oatmeal Stout—a very good decision. One of our newest Squash Fest participants brought along some mead made from the sweet Annie that appeared in our wedding bouquets, so we added that to mimosas, mixing 1 part orange juice to 1 part mead, to serve alongside the meal.

Recipe via The Beeroness 

Round 4: Pumpkin Noodles and Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut Parsley Pesto

Squash Fest Round 4
Rachael Dupree

This is the first year that not all of the food made at Squash Fest was consumed at Squash Fest. During this round, we made recipes for freezing, and one of them let me test out my new pasta maker. The verdict: We need to add Pasta Fest to the 2017 calendar.

Recipes via Bless This Mess and Food52 

Round 5: Pumpkin Spice Nutella Milkshake with Pumpkin Crunch Topping

Squash Fest Round 5
Rachael Dupree

I wasn’t so sure about this recipe at first. Ice cream and pumpkin and Nutella and apple cider? It sounded a bit over-the-top to me. Oh, but was I proven wrong. Plus, we added pumpkin leather gone wrong as a crunchy topping—amazing.

Recipe via Foodness Gracious

Round 6: Pumpkin Spice New Orleans Fried Rice Calas

Squash Fest Round 6
Rachael Dupree

This admittedly sounded a little weird, but I love beignets, which these are sort of similar to, and this blogger’s recipes never let me down, so it was worth the gamble—and the results were totally worth it, too. The batter is so simple to mix up, and what better way to use up rice left over from stir-fry night?

Recipe via Joy the Baker

Round 7: Creamy Butternut Squash Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Squash Fest Round 7
Rachael Dupree

This was a nice way to end #SquashFest2016—it tempered the sweet treats from earlier in the day and made leftovers, which we enjoyed on into the week. Instead of rolling each individual enchilada, we just laid out the tortillas flat, lasagna-style. I’d do it this way every time for a quick weeknight meal.

Recipe via Bless This Mess

Now our bellies are stretched out and ready for the holiday feasting ahead of us. What pumpkin recipes have you indulged in this year?

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