Posts Tagged ‘winter squash’

Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

As a child I grew up eating frozen, pureed, orange squash that came in a box and tasted vaguely of plastic.  Served in a gelatinous slump on my plate, I spent years believing that squash was one food best left in the fields.

But then my father started a garden, a large plot my mother, sister and I tended together.  This is when we discovered acorn squash, which my mother baked with a bit of maple syrup and cream drizzled into the hollow left from the seeds.  One bite of the savory treat, and I was in love. 

The sweet, flaky goodness of winter squash is a hallmark of fall for me, and each year I wait until the time that squash is in season to indulge in its delight.  I wouldn’t dream of buying and eating it out of season, because to me, the passion for food stems from anticipation as much as preparation.

If you’re looking to warm your evenings with savory soup or want a side dish with a little pizzazz, check out the ingredient that makes fall meals special:  winter squash.

Rich, flakey, light, or nutty, these colorful cousins of the thin-skinned zucchini come in a variety of shapes and sizes perfect for feeding a couple or a crowd.  As the days get chilly and shorter, squirrel a few into your pantry to store for winter dishes. 

Delicatas, hubbards, buttercups, and acorn squash all grow well here, along with pie pumpkins and a few of the butternuts.  I like them cut in half and roasted, but use them in other recipes and you’ll realize they’re pretty good cooked many ways.

Spaghetti squash is perfect for those who love pasta, with long, stringy, mild tasting fibers.  Slathered with sauce or outstanding in pesto, the vines are so prolific you only need plant a few.  Cooking it is simple – pop it in the microwave until it’s soft and collapses, then carefully cut it open, remove the seeds and scrape out the squash.

There is one note of caution to cooking spaghetti squash this way:  pierce it thoroughly with a knife before microwaving.  It explodes if you don’t, blowing the microwave door open and spewing squash across the room.  Trust me, that’s not as much fun as it sounds.

 Hubbards always draw my attention.  I’ve always wanted to taste them, but their mammoth size – up to 25 pounds – make them look more like a drilling project than a simple meal.  When I finally got the nerve up to ask an old timer how he cracked the gargantuan gourd open, he smiled and said “the wife tosses it off the garage roof.”

Images of that kind, petite lady climbing a rickety ladder with what amounts to a small hippo in tow flashed through my mind, and I prepared to give that gardener a good tongue lashing on safety in cooking.  But one glance at his laughing eyes had me realizing I was being ribbed, and she didn’t really do that.

But the question persists:  how do you open hubbard?  With an extra tough skin and roly-poly shape, a knife is out of the question.  Fortunately Alton Brown, host of Good Eats, has the best approach:  tapping a cleaver through the squash with a wooden mallet.  This works well on all winter squash.

Smaller, thick-skinned pumpkins are ideal for using in pies or baked goods. Often called sugar pumpkins, they have a very rich, sweet flavor.  Use them immediately – while other winter squashes taste better as they age, the pie pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) loses its flavor if stored.

Before choosing pumpkins to grow in your patch, try a few this fall:  Black Futsu, a type from Japan, is a funky-looking flattened, warty, deep green pumpkin.  Its looks are deceiving; the flesh is golden with the savory taste of hazelnuts.  And Jahrradale, an Australian grey pumpkin, is very tasty.  The nutty, sweet but not strong flesh is easy to clean and nearly stringless, making baking a snap.

Harvest your winter squash when the skin toughens and isn’t dented by pressure from a fingernail.  But before this happens the skin is tender, so avoid wounding your fruit with a clumsy nail slash by watching for other signs of maturity, such as the stem drying out or the rind turning a deep color (some exceptions apply).

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Snuggle up to your favorite sweetie and send the kids from the room – today’s video  is all about squash love.  (produced by the Boulder Camera)

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Reader Jeff of Nature Hills Nursery waxed eloquent in his comment on the post Harvest Frenzy, and I’d like to follow up on a topic he mentioned:  getting your family to love squash.   Lakota squash

Ok, we’ve all been there.  After all, we were rookies once and planted a few extra seeds because they look so danged small in that cute little hill.  Then they grew.  And grew.  Then they set fruit and the circus began.

Squash for dinner, squash for lunch.  Squash in breads, muffins, pies, relishes, soups, ratatouille, and casseroles.  Year after year, memories of the “zucchini incident” are shared at family gatherings until you swear that when the day comes for them to inscribe your tombstone, they’ll write “Here lies a gardener, squashed in her prime.”

Were it only the zucchinis and crooknecks we might be ok, riding out the season of plenty until frost kills the plant.  But no, the cucurbit family is large, and when you’re an inquisitive gardener you eventually expand your horizons, and plant winter squash. 

young Spaghetti squashPerhaps it starts with a pumpkin, the orange globe that brings a smile each fall.  Then it could be an acorn or two, or possibly a buttercup, to go with a savory pork roast.  Eventually you try spaghetti squash, delightful with a bit of pesto (oh, yes, readers. If you try nothing else this fall, try that).  Finally, you branch out into the butternuts and delicatas, with sweet potato flavor that’s perfect mashed with a dab of butter, brown sugar and nutmeg.  A pod of young Hubbards

Then you’re hooked, and growing the mammoths:  Hubbards and Banana squash that top out at 25 to 30 pounds.  These don’t grace your counter; they beach themselves on it.  Once roasted their flesh can be frozen into recipe-sized amounts and feed you until spring.

If you’re growing winter squash, fall’s the time to gather your harvest.  Speed ripening by cutting back the water to the plant, but do this slowly over a few weeks so you don’t interrupt growth of young squash.  Pluck blossoms from the plant about mid-month to allow the plant to pump energy into the larger ones on the vine, and use the blossoms stuffed, fried, or sautéed for pasta.

Harvest your winter squash when the skin toughens and isn’t dented by pressure from a fingernail.  But before this Look for stem dryinghappens the skin is tender, so avoid wounding your fruit with a clumsy nail slash by watching for other signs of maturity, such as the stem drying out or the rind turning a deep color (some exceptions apply).

Cut the squash from the vine carefully, leaving at least two-and-a-half inches of stem attached to the fruit.  If you’re growing petite squash and don’t have that much stem, do the best you can and don’t worry.  The important part is to keep from snapping the stem from the squash or bruising the fruit in harvest.

And let’s talk about powdery mildew, a white fungal disease that attacks squash, killing back the plants. In fall, our plants look coated with frost because the mildew is so bad, primarily on the old foliage.  You might have noticed that you can see more of the squash as the leaves die off from powdery mildew.  Clearing out the dead leaves just leads to a sneeze-attack if you have allergies.  Powdery mildew on squash leaves

You might try potassium bicarbonate, Neem or Horticultural oil to keep the mildew down.  For more on powdery mildew, check out the Front Range Food Gardener blog.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

Crop experts are predicting an early fall this year, claiming they see signs of it in plant maturity, insect behavior, and tealeaves.  I’m not sure what they’re noticing – it could be the squirrels busily storing acorns, ground beetles on the move, or annual plants setting seed – but in the garden, things are just getting started.

This is the time we’ve been waiting for – the point of all this gardening.  As summer wanes and crops are ripening we find ourselves in the middle of harvest, wondering what possessed us to plant all of this stuff.  Keeping up with it seems like a task for a modern superhero.

You go out to gather basil for pesto and end up bringing in enough tomatoes for sauce, a quick trip to check out the melons results in a panicked harvesting of cucumbers.  The counters are covered in produce that needs attention – now.

The kitchen becomes a flurry of activity fast enough to frighten your family; they give you a wide berth so your chopping, sautéing, simmering and roasting doesn’t accidentally involve them.  The freezer fills while shelves groan under the weight of canned beans, peaches, and fruit jams.

If you’re like me and work for a living, harvest isn’t so much relaxing as it is a frenzy, each spare moment spent preparing foods to last into winter.   Winter squash

The good news is that not everything needs cooking to preserve it. Winter squash sweet enough for savory fall soups improves from storing it a little while.  When first picked, winter squash – butternuts, acorns, hubbards and spaghetti – is creamy and starchy, but if allowed to stand for a month or two, the starches convert into sugars, making the squash more delectable at thanksgiving than at harvest.

 Store your squash in dry, cool conditions, and depending on the variety, it will keep one to six months. 

 The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts September and October will be a bit warmer than normal.  If true, this means the pride of summer – our tomatoes – will give us lingering delight into fall.  But if not true, they won’t have enough time to ripen on the vine.  Keep your eye on the forecast and when frost threatens to kill the crop, pluck your love apples from the plant and ripen them indoors, or store for later use.

Green and breaker tomatoes Pink-blushed tomatoes ripen on the counter, but for long-term storage, green tomatoes can hold for months until you need them.  Only mature green fruit stores well – those that are full-sized, glossy, light green to white with a whitish-looking ‘star’ on the blossom end. 

 Should your tomato begin to color at the blossom end, which is known as a ‘breaker’, it will continue to ripen quickly on your counter and taste close to vine ripened.  Deep, dark green tomatoes are immature and should be used right away as fried green tomatoes, in relish, or stewed.

Prevent storage rot by harvesting tomatoes when plants are dry, avoiding fruit that is diseased or has insect damage.  Sort them into groups that will ripen at the same speed – mature green, breakers, pinks and red.  Clip stems short, wash gently and pat dry. Wrap the green tomatoes in newspaper and place one to two layers deep in a box.  Keep in a cool, 55 to 60 degree room out of sunlight; and remember, refrigerators are too cold.

 Keep blankets and other frost protection close to the garden as September passes – you’ll need to move them on and off the plants to protect them almost daily.  When you cover your plants, make sure the blanket stretches all the way down to the ground; you don’t want a cold draft getting in to freeze your plants.

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