Growing squash can be rewarding for winter culinary delight
MUNCY – The Full Circle Future Harvest club continues to meet every month at the Muncy Public Library with the intent of sharing local resources and learning how to grow and harvest food in our own back yard, no matter how big or small. Add to this, the benefits of wellness and good nutrition. Last month, in December, the discussion was on winter squashes – how to grow them and how to harvest them. LuAnn Potter of Muncy and director of the Summer Alive Program in Montgomery, offered her knowledge and experience with her success of growing squash and preserving some of the heirloom varieties. Winter squash is one of the most nutritious crops out there with a great variety of choices.
Potter’s best resource is “The Compleat Squash” by Amy Goldman which will also be available at the Muncy Public library. The book introduces the large variety of species, their case histories and their culinary merits. Many regard most squashes and pumpkins to be used primarily for decorative purposes, and totally ignoring their delicate taste or their “horticultural fame.”
Potter brought in several varieties to show. They had different colors, different sizes, and according to Goldman’s book, “different personalities.”
Potter favors the Hubbard Long Neck Pumpkin squash as she points out its rather large size and bluish tint. “These squashes can store up to six months,” she said. The flesh inside the squashes are flavorful and unique and can be prepared in many different ways. Often it is roasted inside a 400 degree oven.
Another favorite is the “Fairytale pumpkin” known for its bright orange color and its cylinder shape that resembles Cinderella’s carriage in the classic fairytale. They can range in weight from 8 to 25 pounds. The seeds are heirloom and can be saved for next year’s crop. Once the pulp is removed, the flesh can be cooked several ways, offering a sweeter taste.
Teri Snyder who attended the session asked about the spaghetti squash. Its stringy fibers inside resemble pasta. Again, it is a long lasting squash and the smooth rinds range from tan to orange. It is an easy squash to find and prepare during the winter.
Butternut squash is another popular squash for growing and harvesting for winter. They are naturally resistant to pests according to Potter who also shared some recipe ideas and brought in two prepared squash hot entrees to taste.
“The largest pumpkins grown and bragged about are really squashes,” said Potter. “Much of the pumpkin pie we eat is made from squash. Canned pumpkin is not pumpkin but some type of squash, usually butternut.” Winter squash is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, a relative of both the melon and the cucumber.
The flesh of these varieties of squash is much richer and more nutritious than that of pumpkin. They are filled with vitamins A, B, and C and make a good “stand-in” for carrots or sweet potatoes in any recipe.
The plants are hardy, vigorous and dense. Seeds can be ordered through catalogs such as Mother Earth News or Johnny Seed Company. They need lots of space and plenty of warm sun to grow, not damp or wet. Potter says she rotates the squashes from year to year with rich, well-drained soil that is fertilized at least 3 times during the growing season. She plants them as soon as possible after the last frost. “I plant them on hills 3-4 feet apart,” she added. When mature, they will be fully colored and will sound hollow inside. Foliage should be turning yellow when ready to pick. If they are large and growing vigorously before June’s end, they will have a strong chance of surviving the squash beetle.
Store the squash away from direct light and not near apples or pears or any other fruit that releases ethylene gas advised Potter. “They need a rich, nutty flavor.”
At the end of the session, attendees enjoyed some tasty recipes and shared experiences growing these healthy plants that contain so many nutritional elements and anti-inflammatory compounds. “Some of these squashes date back to hundreds of years,” Potter said. They can easily be adapted to soups, pilafs and pies. “Plus, they are pretty to look at.”
The next Full Circle Future Harvest meeting is scheduled for Monday, January 15 at 6 p.m. at the Muncy Public Library and will feature garden planning and crop rotation.
SPAGHETTI SQUASH CASSEROLE
1 spaghetti squash halved and seeds removed
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tsp basil dried
2 plum tomatoes chopped
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
Coat 13×9 baking dish.
Place squash (cut side down) in dish and bake 30 mins or until tender.
With fork scrape squash into large bowl.
Warm oil in medium skillet.
Add onion, garlic and basil and cook 4-6 mins.
Add tomatoes and cook 3 mins more.
To bowl with squash, add cottage cheese, mozzarella, parsley, salt and onion mixture.
Stir to mix.
Pour into prepared baking dish.
Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake about 30 mins. at 350 degrees