Friday, May 21, 2010

Squash It!

Personal note here first: I’ve got to apologize for the long time between posts. I took a nasty spill in my garden, and being as old as the hill St. Peter preached on, I landed in the emergency room and have been limping around like a rabbit. I’m better now, so I’m back to work with good stuff to share. I’ll try not to be so clumsy next time, okay? And you say one for me.

My Squash is Up!

Guess what? My squash plants are up and thriving! Well, “thriving” might be an understatement…the plants are so big they’re crawling out of their space and beginning to set flowers, right in the 4” X 4” modules I “potted them up” into. My Al is building me ten 4’ X 8’ raised beds for our veggies, and while some of them are going strong (I’ve got one nice bed full of beefsteak-type tomatoes, with jalapenos bordering half of the bed, and Anaheim chilis on the other half.) Cabbage and english peas, along with german iris, chard, and seed-onions (meaning onions i grow simply because they make so much seed) occupy another, along with a clump of oregano in one corner. The rest are in progress—and so are the veggies! I’m running out of room, so Al and I are working as fast as we can. But Nature (common word for God) always works faster.

Oh, if you don’t believe in God, just say “Nature.” We’ll know Who you mean. Fair enough?

Okay, let’s talk about squash.

Here in North Texas, April is the month when most nurseries start cutting back on carrying veggie plants, because mostly everyone has already bought-(or grown-and put-in) their own Chosen Vegetables by now. I started mine back in early March because I just love to get my hands dirty, feeling the soil and smelling the clean, fresh tang of the good earth. It’s my Italian roots, I guess. Remember in the movie “Gladiator,” when Russell Crowe kept kneeling to take a handful of earth and rub it through his fingers? It’s the same thing. There’s just something primal and extremely satisfying to know that this is the stuff we are all made from, and that the food we are planting will come from it as well.

We never had squash on the table when I was a child, except patty-pan squash, that flat white squash that looks like a flying saucer.
Of course, it was the Depression and then the WWII years, and everyone pretty much stuck to what they knew. We were luckier than most, living in New Orleans, because we had access to all sorts of seafood, and in Louisiana and most the of the Gulf South, you don’t have to worry about whether what you’re planting will grow; you have to worry whether you sat down too long on the old Mississippi mud, because the old people said if you sat too long, you’d come up leaves. Sometimes we kids would quietly strew leaves on each other and then yell that, oh, no, our friends or cousins ‘had been sittin’ too long!’ They’d invariably jump up and scream bloody murder, for the first few times at least.

Oh, well, kids… It was fun, though.

Squash is very easy to grow. You just take a nursery flat, or a flat somebody builds for you out of old wood, or an old rusty 9”X13”x2” baking pan with some holes punched in the bottom for drainage—or even half of a cardboard milk carton, cut top to bottom, with holes put in it. Cover the holes with torn pieces of coffee filter to keep the soil from running away, and fill it up with good dirt (I use potting soil to start my seeds, but do whatever you want.)

Now plant your squash. Put the big old seeds in, pointy side downwards, a couple of inches apart. You can put them closer, but then they get involved with each other, and you have a hard time separating them when the time comes.

Push them in a little way. You shouldn’t be able to see their tops, but remember, they’re not mining for coal, so use some judgment. Water them well and put them in the sun. They should never dry out, but they don’t know how to swim, either, so again, moderation is the key. Water them daily if your air is dry.

If you only want a few—say a dozen—plants, you can make little lines in your flat/pan. One line of squash, one of marigolds, one of bell peppers, and so on. Make them about 1 ½ to 2 inches apart. If you want to, you can put in the seeds of jalapenos, Anaheim chilis or cayennes as well. Hungarian yellows are good, too.

Pretty soon—say in 10 days to a week, maybe sooner if you’re lucky—you should see a curved pale green loop coming out of the ground, and then the first “green things.” They look like leaves, sort of, but they’re not. They’re ‘cotyledons.’ Cotyledons, pronounced “cotty—LEAD—uns” are just the two sides of the seed case. After they look around and make sure the coast is clear, they allow two tiny true leaves to come up from the center, and from then on in, it’s an explosion of large leaves and thick stems.

You can put them in the garden any time the weather is warm enough in your area and they have their second leaves; but I always wait until they’re big enough to intimidate the birds. Birds love to dig up sprouting plants. I guess they get some Vitamin C or something from them; after all, they can’t squeeze oranges, they have to get it somewhere. Just not from our plants, right? You’d better believe it!

Your squash will make two kinds of flowers: male and female. The male flowers have straight, slim stems, and the female flowers have a distinctive bulge at the bottom of the flower. (No comments from the guys in the audience, please.) You can pick and stuff the male flowers--, usually with some sort of cheese, or a cheese and nut mix--and then dredge them in egg-mixed-with a tbsp of water and then in a mix of flour/Parmesan/basil/oregano/garlic and fry them quickly in olive oil. Leave the female flowers alone if you want squash for the table. When the fruit is four to six inches long, it’s perfect. Young squash can be eaten, skin and all. Larger fruits must be peeled, halved and stuffed with turkey dressing-type dressing, or sliced very fine in other dishes. More on thatin another post.

Here’s my favorite recipe for crookneck squash. I got it from my sister-in-law, Suzie Pope Artell. Suzie’s one of the best cooks out there, and this is just one of her many luscious recipes. I make it for every holiday, and the children and grandchildren fall upon it and gobble it up as fast as good manners will allow. Sometimes faster.


2 # yellow squash
½ c mayonnaise
½ stick butter or oleo
1 c bread crumbs
½ large bell pepper
1 large onion
1 egg
1 can sliced water chestnuts
½ # block cheddar cheese
1 tsp sugar or Splenda®
Salt and black pepper to taste


Heat oven to 350*F. Peel and chop the onion fine. Reserve. Wash, seed and chop the bell pepper. Save the seeds for your windowsill garden. Don’t save the onion skins for the compost—they deter earthworms, who are your best friends in the garden. More on that later. Beat the egg and reserve it. Peel the squash if it is longer than 6” and slice into 1/8” discs. Reserve. Butter a 1 ½ qt casserole or baking dish. Drain water chestnuts, rinse in a sieve under running water and reserve.


In a small amount of water, over medium heat, cook the squash until it is very soft. Be careful not to let it burn. Burned squash smells and tastes nasty! You’d have to start all over again. Drain it into your soup container in the freezer and reserve the squash.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter or oleo and sweat the onion and bell pepper until they surrender. You can tell when they’re ready: the onion becomes rather transparent, and the veggies appear to be perspiring. Add these vegetables to the squash. It’s best to let it cool just a bit here so the egg you’re about to add doesn’t scramble on you.

Now, add the remaining ingredients—but NOT the bread crumbs—mix well, and pour all of it into the casserole. Top the whole thing off with an even layer of bread crumbs (well, as even as you can) and bake it for 30 minutes. Refrigerate leftovers, if any. I doubt it.

Enjoy your week-end, and I'll see you next time. God bless you.

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