Winter Squash, Part 1 (choosing varieties)
(* If you got here looking for pumpkin pie, rather than the other way ’round, there is now a detailed recipe.)
From the practical point of view, winter squash is a funny place to start this year’s food garden posts. The growing part is easy enough but the finding room part is hard. You can get a whole summer’s worth of beans and tomatoes and herbs and flowers and greens and garlic (and more), out of the amount of ground it takes to grow a modest crop of squash.
But it never hurts to Know Your Food; I promised back with the squash recipe hints that the garden part would come soon and seed ordering time is galloping toward us apace.
So is plant ordering time. And garden design time and all the rest of it. There are a few tips about coping in New Year Portfolio Analysis, Garden Division.
Meanwhile,back in the truck patch:
I’m not sure why, but we’re in the midst of a great squash boom.
Catalogs are crawling with scrumptious-sounding options: Pink Banana, Honey Bear, Sweet Dumpling… It’s easy to decide Long of Naples is probably too big (20 – 35 pounds) and Lady Godiva, a tasteless number grown for its “naked” seeds, probably doesn’t merit the space. But how do you decide whether to throw in your lot with, say,Galeux d’Eysines?
Three years ago, the only place I’d ever seen one of these warty pink units was in the pages of Amy Goldman’s The Compleat Squash, a paean to heirlooms that sets new standards for lust-provocation. Two years ago, there was one at Common Ground Fair
And now you can get seeds all over the place: Seed Savers Exchange, Territorial Seed Company, Baker Creek (ground central of “my obscure heirloom is more obscure than yours”) and Fedco, which goes on about its beauty at some length and winds up saying “its tender moist sweet orange flesh is delightful in soups or baked.”
Does this help? No. The number of winter squash that aren’t described as sweet is extremely small. What helps ( at least a little) is to check the species:
Cucurbita pepo ( Acorn, Delicata, pumpkins, including New England Pie and Winter Luxury) The same species as summer squash, ready to eat right off the vine. The winter kinds can be really superb – Sweet Dumpling deserves its name – but they can also be bland and stringy, and good or bad they seldom keep well.
Cucurbita moschata ( Butternut, mostly, until you get to heirlooms like Musquee de Provence and Sucrine du Berry.) It keeps forever, but you may find durability its main claim to fame if your idea of good squash is sweet, dense fleshed and round flavored. Moschatas are more likely to be moist and just generally squash-tasting, sweeter than some other vegetables but nothing noteworthy in that department. There are outstanding varieties, especially among those that take a long time to grow, but moschata is not the location of the motherload.
That would be Cucurbita maxima, home of serious deliciousness. Buttercup is a maxima. So is the increasingly and for good reason famous Marina di Chioggia, also the large Hubbard group ( Goldman lists 9 of them, all first rate), Sweet Meat and our current favorite, Confection
Confection is not high yielding, and the 3 to 5 pound fruits aren’t worth eating until they’ve been stored for at least a month. But after that they just keep getting more and more rich tasting, velvety and sweet until February or March and they’re still good when it’s finally not squash season any more.
Other than hoping the species rule applies to the squash in question, we’re stuck with depending on the usual: how big is the plant? (The “bush” varieties of anything you’d want to eat are generally 6 feet or more in diameter, btw). How long until harvest? Any description that mentions regional suitability gets extra points.
Growing tips follow asap after today’seek! knee surgery, and now you know why they’re not here now.