Edible Centerpieces-Celebrate the Goodness of Your Food

Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook with Jen Hurt as guest chef, artist and Edible Landscaper


As for Jen…

Her true calling seems to be art, but art connected to the land and things natural, primitive and rustic. Aside from her Edible Landscaping skills she often advises garden centers on retail and design items.

On any given day, Jen can usually be found at her home doing a creative something.  She finds joy in yielding a shovel, swinging a hammer, stirring a pan, making all kinds of art, and tending to the well-being of her son, dog and 2 cats.


Celebrating the harvest has taken place in every culture for many centuries. Although most of these events take place on a grand scale, I find myself celebrating throughout the seasons in my own simple way.

It starts with the satisfying act of the planting of the seed. Then the excitement of seeing the new growth break ground.  Followed by the nurturing of the young and tender plants in anticipation of the fruits that they will soon offer.

Growing my own vegetables is a must.  It must be in my DNA; I can’t explain it any other way.  Just as dogs bark and chickens cluck, I have to do it.

This year I had a rogue butternut squash plant come up with my tomatoes.  It’s seed must have been hiding in the compost that I spread around the young plants.  I let it be and soon it intertwined with the Aunt Gertie’s Gold (heirloom tomatoes), and made it’s way over the deck rail, onto the deck and then with a sharp left landed onto the side yard.  With all this said, it produced one butternut squash.  Yup, just one.  For this reason alone, it needed to be celebrated.

When the time came, this single regal squash was harvested and placed on a platter with other recently gathered glories from the yard to be placed, artistically for all to view.

This celebration of mine was then recreated at a recent event at Homestead Gardens using the colorful preserved moss by SuperMoss™ that is offered there.  The tablescapes that were created from vegetables, fruits, plants, and a variety of mosses (drew crowds)received much attention and can easily be recreated in your home.  You too can celebrate the harvest in your own style with your choice of edibles.

Now, I’ve made a variety of dishes from Butternut squash before but this one determined beauty deserved it’s own recipe.  It came from a craving for the warm flavors of India on a cold evening.  Serve with aromatic steamed basmati rice and a spoonful of hot vegetable pickle or mango chutney.

Sultry and Fragrant Butternut Squash

Serves 8

The spice blends and condiments of Indian cuisine are each unique, adding fragrance and spark to each dish, each bite.  Explore the flavors!

You can substitute canned whole tomatoes that you chop up. Reserve the juice to add to the dish if more liquid is needed.

  • 1 small to medium Butternut squash cut into 1 inch cubes
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 1 inch knob of fresh ginger, minced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 15 ounce can of chick peas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups of greens, torn or cut into bite sized pieces, such as kale or spinach

The safest way to peel and cube the hard skinned squash is to cut it into 1” rings with a big knife.  Place the rings down flat on the cutting board and cut down just this side of the skin, making your way around the whole ring.  Scoop out all the seeds and stingy stuff and cut into cubes.

Saute the onions, ginger, garlic and cinnamon sticks in a 4-5 quart pan using a bit of oil on medium heat.  Cook until soft-about 3 minutes.  Add the cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper and salt and give it a stir.  This allows the spices to roast and release their fragrance and flavor.  Add the tomatoes, butternut squash and chick peas.  Cover the pot and let simmer for about 15 minutes or so.  Add the greens, cover again and continue to cook until the squash is fork tender.

  • Note: kale is a rather dry green and because of this you may need to add some water or reserved tomato juice to get to the desired consistency.  Spinach, however has a higher water content.  If you find that it is too thin, then you can add a spoonful of tomato paste to thicken.  The consistency should that of a curry or stew.

Serve with a sprinkle of  exotic Garam Masala, Basmati rice or vegetable Samosas and spicy hot mango relish or mixed relish.

  • More Notes: Garam masala is a spice blend, typically of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and coriander.
  • The relishes I mention typically contain fruits and vegetables, mustard, fenugreek and tumeric with varying degrees of spiciness.  My favorite is Patak’s Original Mixed Relish Hot.  I recently got my hands on a jar of their Mango Relish and will try that next.