An insurance man’s sweet farming discovery

Today, the Butternut Farm in Stow, MA, is the site of an 18-hole golf course known for narrow fairways and the longest hole in the country without a sand trap. But on that same land some 80 years ago, a Boston white collar worker made farming history.

As an officer with the John Hancock Life Insurance Company, Charles A. Leggett had never considered farming. But after a doctor suggested he get his ailing father outdoors more, Leggett bought a house in the country, setting the wheels in motion for the creation of a popular winter squash.

De la Cruz Family Produce offered butternut squash at the farmers’ market in Arroyo Grande.

The butternut squash, which you can get at your local farmers’ market, is a great source of fiber, packed with vitamins A, C and E, along with potassium and magnesium. While squash itself has been around for a long time, butternut squash didn’t exist before Leggett moved to Stow in the 1930s.

Initially, Leggett had no intention of farming on his 94 acres. But, his wife recalled years later, he hated to see land lying idle. And if he could make a little extra money from it — well, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, he figured.

He tried growing corn, but that didn’t go so well. Besides, plenty of other farmers grew corn. So he began experimenting with squash, crossing the oddly shaped gooseneck squash with the avocado-shaped hubbard squash.

Eventually, he came up with a satisfactory squash that was – in his words —  “smooth as butter, sweet as a nut.”  Meanwhile, its funny shape looked like a cross between a pear, a pumpkin and a violin case.

In nearby Waltham, land had been donated to what is now the University of Massachusetts for educational purposes in 1922. Knowing the butternut squash faculty dedicated their lives to vegetables at the Waltham Agricultural Experiment Station there, Leggett took his butternut squash seeds to the experts, who were initially skeptical it would hold for repeated production. But, under the guidance of a professor named Robert E. Young, butternut squash flourished and eventually became known as Waltham Butternut Squash.

Funny looking, butternut squash is known for rich flavor, especially when roasted.

While Leggett’s squash doesn’t bear his name, his squash legacy does live on in the name of his former farm – now home to the Butternut Farm Golf Club. Meanwhile, his squash is commonly grown in California, including the Central Coast.

Linda de la Cruz (pictured above), of the Morro Bay-based de la Cruz Family Produce, recently offered the winter squash at the Arroyo Grande farmers’ market.  The vegetable, she said, is especially good for soup. But you can also eat a butternut squash alone.

“It’s like a sweet potato,” she said.

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