Gem squash with a cheesy spicy creamed sweetcorn filling

StuffedGemSquashTitle © J Horak-Druiff 2013

“Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You’ll find what you need to furnish it – memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey.”

Wise words indeed from American author Tad Williams, but words that my father would have pooh-poohed and rejected out of hand.  You see,my father was a complicated man. Coming from comfortable but humble beginnings, he was seized at an early age by the desire to make something more of himself – more than his parents had been, or than his friends aspired to.  If we view his life through the prism of modern pop psychology, you could probably make out an argument that he was trying to fill the void created by the older brother who had died before my father was born and whose death shaped much of my father’s childhood. He went to university (the first in his family to do so); obtained two bachelor’s degrees before studying medicine; joined the South African Air Force; traveled abroad; cultivated a very suave Errol Flynn look;  developed a taste for expensive cars and Edith Piaf – and in many ways, put as much cultural distance between himself and his roots as he possibly could.

And part of this new image that he had carefully constructed for himself was the house that he bought soon after he married my mother.  He was already 45 at the time with one failed marriage behind him and had moved to a new city to start afresh.  The house my mother fell in love with at the first viewing was, to say the least, avant garde for the early 1970s in provincial Port Elizabeth.  Designed by a Japanese architect as the dream home of a local Greek businessman, the house not only occupied an unusual narrow sloping plot but was also built in a rough-plastered, open-plan  style that was simply unlike anything else in town at the time.  My father loved the gasps of surprise when visitors caught sight of the two-storey tall front door, or emerged from the entrance hall into the massive open-plan living area with its floor to ceiling windows overlooking the valley.  But it was more than that.  My father was a complete home-body and he loved the privacy and seclusion of the house perched on the edge of the valley; he loved the abundant bird life and the big garden; and I think he loved the memories of myself and my brother growing up there and what an idyllic time it had been for all four of us.


GemSquashRaw © J Horak-Druiff 2013


My father’s tailor once joked with my mother that my dad had a “high RC factor” – resistance to change – and boy, was he right. Why go to a new restaurant? At least you knew what you were getting at the old favourite.  Why watch a new movie?  At least if you’d seen it before, the plot would be less confusing the second time around?  When we were teenagers, this was infuriating but amusing – but when my mom became wheelchair bound in a house with 9 separate levels, my father’s absolute insistence on staying in the home he was used to became a massive family problem. Even after my mother’s death, when we gently pointed out that a four bedroom sprawl of a house on so many levels was possibly not the best place for a man in his eighties to live alone, he became incensed and shouted at us “The only way I am leaving this house is in a box!”. As it turned out, he left eight years after my mom, not quite in a box but carried out on a stretcher with a shattered hip, never to leave the hospital again and never to return to his beloved house.

That was two and a half years ago, during which time I have slowly packed and stored or brought to London the things I wanted to keep.  So you would think I would have been prepared for the e-mail this week saying the house was finally empty of all the detritus of forty years of life and that the new owners were collecting the keys.  But instead the words hit me like a punch to the stomach.  Memories of the minutiae of my thirty years of living in and loving that house threatened to overwhelm me. The smell of my father’s wooden desk and the slippery feel of the black leather desk chair beneath your legs. The delicate tinkle of the wind chimes that they had brought back from Mauritius, announcing the tentative beginnings of a cooling breeze on a sweltering day. The sunny patch on the floor of my bedroom where I faithfully wrote in my diary every weekend. The parties and the teenage lovelorn heartaches and the elaborate weekend-long games and the sleepless giggling sleepovers and the anniversary dinner we served my parents in the conservatory under African skies. All gone, lost forever, swept away by the relentless tide of the passing years. It has taken me a few days to regain my equilibrium and for my unhappy heart to realign itself with my head (which knows that the sale of the house is both necessary and good) and the quote at the top of this post has often been on the tip of my tongue during this time, like a kind of mantra  reminding me of my father’s folly of making his home in a concrete place, and the necessity of not repeating his mistake.


AfricanVolcanoSauce © J Horak-Druiff 2013


One of the ways in which I have attempted to make home something I carry with me is by often making recipes or using ingredients that I remember from childhood. Often, obtaining the specific ingredients was difficult and required special trips to South African shops.  But last week I received a small hamper of South African goodies from UK online supermarket Ocado, to announce that fact that they have recently started stocking a whole range of imported South African groceries.  My hamper included Maltabella (a malted sorghum porridge that many of us grew up on as kids); Ouma buttermilk rusks; Mrs Ball’s chutney (a South African essential); NikNaks (like twiglets but cheesier and better!); Simba potato crisps in Mrs Ball’s chutney flavour; Steers monkeygland sauce (don’t worry, no bushmeat involved!); Romany Creams chocolate biscuits; a Lunch Bar chocolate and (oh joy!) Koo creamed sweetcorn. A box of heaven, really!


OcadoSouthAfricanHamper © J Horak-Druiff 2013


KOOSweetcorn © J Horak-Druiff 2013


This year was also the first year that we grew gem squash on our new allotment.  For those of you not born in South Africa, here is a quick gem squash primer.  For the South Africans among you, these emerald green beauties will need no introduction and to our delight they loved the sunny position Nick chose for them where they could climb up the boundary fence. The minute the Ocado box arrived and I saw the creamed sweetcorn, I knew immediately what dish I would make:  gem squash filled with sweetcorn and topped with cheese – a childhood favourite. To add a little zing, I called upon another South African, the talented Grant Hawthorne and his truly astonishing African Volcano peri-peri sauce.  I was lucky enough to meet Grant at Taste of London this summer and get a bottle of both his sauce and his marinade, and Nick has been slowly depleting our sauce supplies ever since. The sauce has an excellent flavour – fresh, citrussy, zingy and spice all at once – fully deserving of its  in Great Taste Award in 2012.  Before Nick could finish it all, I salvaged a teaspoon or so for this dish and I can confirm that this is going to become a new tradition in our house.  It’s never too late to have a tasty childhood.

Other gem squash recipes you might like to try include:




GemSquashFinal © J Horak-Druiff 2013

DISCLOSURE: I was sent the South African goodies as free samples from Ocado and was given the per-peri sauce as a free sample from Grant Hawthorne.  I received no other remuneration to write this post and all opinions are my own. 

4.5 from 2 reviews
Gem squash with a cheesy spicy creamed sweetcorn filling
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This South African childhood favourite of gem squash filled with creamed sweetcorn gets an adult twist with some spicy peri-peri sauce.
Recipe type: Vegetable side
Cuisine: South African
Serves: 4 as a side
  • 2 gem squash
  • 2 large spring onions
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 x 400g tin of creamed sweetcorn
  • 1 tsp hot sauce of your choice (optional)
  • ½ cup grated mature cheddar cheese
  1. Slice the gem squash in half around their equators. If saving the seeds to plant, remove the seeds before cooking, otherwise go ahead and place them in a steamer over a pot of boiling water. Steam until a knife can pierce the flesh easily. Remove the seeds with a spoon if you have not already done so. Keep warm.
  2. In the meantime, slice the spring onions into small rounds and crush the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a small pot and sautée until the spring onions are soft and translucent but not caramelised. Turn down the heat, add the creamed sweetcorn and hot sauce, and heat through.
  3. Place the gem squash cut side up on a baking sheet lined with aluminium foil. Fill each hollow where the seeds were with as much of the sweetcorn mix as will comfortably fit.
  4. Divide the cheese among the four gem squash halves and sprinkle over the sweetcorn. Heat under a medium grill until the cheese begins to bubble and brown.



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  1. says

    My parents moved around a couple of times during our childhood, so I don’t have very strong memories about either of the houses we lived in. But I can totally imagine it would hit you hard when realizing it’s forever gone… So it makes total sense to relive memories with food and this looks delicious… That allotment of yours seems to keep giving great stuff out!

    • Jeanne says

      I sometimes think that is the best way – to learn early on that happiness and family is not bound to a particular place… But on the other hand, there is also something magical about having lived in one house for so long – I think both childhoods have their merits :) The gems are super-delicious and I have to say, the allotment has been a revelation! I never knew that a space about the size of half a tennis court could produce so much food!

  2. says

    Very poignant post, Jeanne. it’s so hard not to get tied up in a place when it has been so part of your whole life and it is the one concrete connection with the past. My mother-in-law lived on our farm and died nearly two years ago, and our family has finally been clearing her house to let to a tenant. My sister-in-law found it very hard as each piece of furniture was so intimately connected with her memories of her mom and the space had almost become a museum of memory. It was cathartic emptying it out and allowing a new person in with their own stuff, but very hard for her especially. I dread having to do the same eventually when it’s my mum’s turn, but hope that will be a long time coming.
    These gem squash look like the perfect comfort food for South Africans!

    • Jeanne says

      Oh Kit, I could not have put it better myself: “the space had almost become a museum of memory”. That’s exactly it – it becomes a space where you go to sit and remember people, and remember your own younger self and it is very hard to imagine I can conjure up memories with as much power as when I was able to sit in that house. I still dream about being in that house on a regular basis, despite now not having lived there for 14 years. I expect I always will.

  3. says

    I recently came across the sketch I had drawn on my last visit to my family home shortly before it was sold. Like you I had grown up in one house and its sale was such a wrench. The loss of a “home” in a homeland was surprisingly hard, so I feel for you. Our family home was immediately renovated, extended and changed by the new owners so that little of the original remained. But now several years on, the sketch brought all the noise and swirly carpets and sunny garden rushing back. At least we have good memories. And mine too involve food… For me it’s potatoes (not a shock, being Irish). We grew great spuds in our back garden and whenever I eat some fine, floury potatoes with lots of salty butter I think of “home”. Enjoy your cheesy squash :)

    • Jeanne says

      Thanks, lovely lady. I remember we had this conversation a while back, about how hard it is to have your home in another country sold – even if you are not living there, it is your base and what you feel roots you to your country and your past. How lovely that you have a sketch – I took tons of photos over the past few years because I knew the house was slipping away from me. I’d rather remember it the way it was then sad and empty. The new owners are also renovating extensively – I really hope to go and see what they have done one day.

  4. says

    Looks like I finally sorted out your blog’s feed and can see new posts again in my sidebar. As for gem squash, I’ve never really been a big fan, but this recipe with the sauce added may just be worth trying.

    • Jeanne says

      Hurrah! I hadn’t realised that you were having problems – apologies! If you are not a huge fan, you can actually scoop out the flesh, mix it with the hot w=sweetcorn & spicy sauce, then scoop back in, top with cheese and grill – so the sweetcorn and squash is all mixed up :)

  5. says

    What a story Jeanne. Thank you for sharing it. I’ve always loved stuffing my squash with tiny samples of the other food on my plate and eating that last. A little bowl of goodness xx

    • Jeanne says

      Thanks, lovely! In our house there was only one original way to serve them, as per my father’s orders: with lots of butter and kaneelsuiker! This savoury departure was viewed by him with great suspicion… 😉

  6. Janet says

    Guess what was delivered in my Abel & Cole fruit and veg box last week? Gem squash! We savoured one with butter and salt, and were planning to eat the second stuffed with sweetcorn and topped with grilled cheese and breadcrumbs – an old favourite I used to get in the residence dining hall at Rhodes University. What a lovely reminder of home! :-)

    • Jeanne says

      aah, good to know Abel & Cole still stock them! Can’t believe they are not more popular in the UK. And I *knew* I’d left something out of this recipe – crispy breadcrumbs!! :) And you went to Rhodes? I was at UPE!

    • Jeanne says

      Oh Rosana, you’ll love it! I think Waitrose does sometimes stock gem squash, and Abel & Cole put them in their veg boxes this time of year…

  7. says

    Oh Romany Creams – be still my beating heart! my dad and I both loved these..Niknaks- nah, Mrs Ball’s – well no home should be without it. The one SA thing I love and crave is Anchovette or even Red Roe, but over pernicketty EU regulations stopped it being imported to the UK. Recently some saffer friends came to China to run the Great Wall Marathon, and bought me several jars. I love anchovette on toast with a cuppa for breakfast. Mmmmmmm

    • Jeanne says

      Hah – I was always Chok-Kits rather than a Romany Creams girl… But I won’t turn down a box! Our house is never without Mrs Ball’s and NikNaks – or Aromat :o) And that’s so funny about the Anchovette! I also crave it and lament the stupid EU regulation that keeps it out of the UK. As if it’s actually dangerous… BAH! I devour jars of the stuff every time I go home.

  8. says

    A scrumptious cold weather dish! I really love the idea. When I go somewhere, I also always make sure that I bring back home some food specialities from the place I visited…



    • Jeanne says

      Anything topped with melted cheese is great for cold weather :) I also always bring back edible treats from my travels :)

    • Jeanne says

      Thanks Katie! Steamed squash is a HUGE hit in this house – either with butter and salt, or (like my dad loved) with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar :)

  9. says

    That’s a sensible approach Jeanne, just keep the lovely memories.

    As to the squash, I shall have to try this. I think Cooper would love it. He does like cheese and loves corn. Perfect.

    • Jeanne says

      But sensible is not a colour that I normally wear… 😉 Gem squash was one of the few vegetables I liked as a kid, so I’d definitely try this one on Cooper!

  10. says

    Wow, your beautiful post brought tears to my eyes. I found your recipe when searching for an idea for the abundant gems from our veggie tunnel. In the end I made ricotta and spinach stuffed gems, but have often made the recipe you shared. My story is long, but your quote caught my eye. We left the home of my dreams to live here on a Free State farm almost five years ago. I had only spent 3 nights in the house we built before our lives changed. It took me about two years to let go that house and to make my home here. What a hard lesson, but your words ring so true. Thank you.

  11. says

    A lovely read, Jeanne, and one I can really relate to. While my Dad’s house was not my family home, or one I could connect to as he only had it in later years, when he died last year we had to go sort his affairs and hand over the house. Life is full of change and that is what makes it wonderful, and also what makes it traumatic. We are coming up to one year from that time now. It is hard to believe.

    I love Grant’s sauces too, by the way. Always have them in my fridge :)