Tag Archives: squash

Fallish like nightgowns and pumpkins.

One of my favorite categories and species of food is Cucurbita, that is, its squashes I have known; in the garden that’s nearly all been zucchini and butternut. But last month I got a vision for pumpkins trailing the paths of next summer’s garden. After browsing seed vendors online and debating with myself till my eyelids drooped, I narrowed the field to two romantic French varieties. Probably their long French names contributed to their appeal. One is often nicknamed the Fairytale Pumpkin and the other the Cinderella Pumpkin. But those names are not consistently applied.

Did you know that there is no botanical category for pumpkin? It’s more of a cultural or linguistic grouping, and at least in English seems generally to be based on its shape. The majority of pumpkins are Cucurbita pepo, but there are pumpkins in the C. maxima and C. moschata species groups, too.

In this Wikipedia photo, they note that the two bright orange ones in center right are C. pepo, and all the others C. maxima. The botany of squashes, as seen in brief on that Wiki page, is complex and historic!

The one above is what I bought this year at Trader Joe’s, and it was merely called “Heirloom.” I think it is a Rouge Vif D’Etampes. Last year I found one at a farm stand, and was impressed by its sweet, deep orange flesh.

I decided on seeds for the Rouge, but it was nip-and-tuck until the end between it and the lovely Musque de Provence, which is a Cucurbita maxima:

Last week I tried these Carnival squashes and my goodness, aren’t they tasty, right down to their crispy and colorful skins. I began to wonder if I should plant them to grow on my trellis….

But they do say that of all the Cucurbits, butternut squash are the best keepers. I must keep that in mind; after all, I want to store other things in my freezer besides squash.

It’s the time of the year when I start to have wood fires — now in my new stove, an Ironstrike — and to discover how many flannel nightgowns need patching or cannibalizing. Always the sleeves, at the elbows, get thin and holey while the rest of the garment is just fine. All of these pictured have the same need for mending, and only one of them is too far gone, so I will use pieces of it on the others.

Four newly refurbished nightdresses will be restored to use, after having sat in a basket, some of them for years, poor neglected things.

A church in southern Oregon, at which I have worshiped at least twice, is renting space in a strip mall while they work on building their permanent temple. In this year’s Alameda Fire much of the town of Phoenix, St Gabriel’s current locale, was burned, but their space was untouched. Here is a photo of the land where the new church is going in. The fire came so close to the icons and cross marking the spot, I thought it worth sharing:

I put my air purifier in the closet today, and thought, Wouldn’t it be so truly normal if I don’t need it next year…. We are getting a little rain this weekend, and cozying up to the hearth.

In the kitchen on St. Stephen’s Day.

Today was a cooking day, mostly. I baked a few more of the cookies I already showed you, and started in on several more kinds…

1) Rich chocolate cookie from the Fine Cooking website. The best flavor, but overly tender and crumbly for my use. I wanted a cookie to fill with the Ghirardelli peppermint chunks I had bought. Did a lot of experimenting, baking three or five cookies at a time.

2) Spiral Green Tea Cookies that turned out kind of blah, in both color and flavor. Maybe they would be a brighter green if my matcha powder were newer?

3) Black Walnut Icebox cookies from Linda of The Task at Hand blog. These are really good!

4) Peanut Brittle from Suburban Jubilee. What drew me to this recipe was that it didn’t require a candy thermometer. It was easy and delicious.

5) The first batch of Licorice Meringues were a product of the kitchen last week; I didn’t get to making a second today. The recipe is from Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus, a cookbook that Kate gave me.

The flavor depends on dried licorice root powder, and the color comes from stripes of black food color gel that you paint on the inside of your piping bag. I want to make more of these because I think they could use more of the licorice element, and because I hope to get closer to making my cookies resemble the gorgeous ones in the book.

 

Oh, and I did cook three sweet and stripey squashes that came in my farm box. My next farm box is coming soon so it’s good to clear out the shelves. I ended my dinner with one of them, and they are pretty enough to close out my foodie report.

The Green Doctor, kindred souls and squashes.

While I was waiting at the fairgrounds gate I saw people leaving with their arms full of watermelons. A woman walked past me wearing a green t-shirt with bold letters proclaiming, “Things go better with kale.”

Then my friend Linda arrived. We entered the Farm-Garden-Homesteading-Everything show and soon found ourselves at a poultry exhibit. When she invited me last week I hadn’t investigated ahead of time what all there would be to see, and chickens were a happy surprise.

As we were admiring the different breeds one exhibitor explained to us that the truest Rhode Island Reds are a very dark mahogany color, and there was a rooster to demonstrate it. He told us about the “Frizzle” gene that causes the feathers of any breed to grow backward.

We got into a discussion with him about whether the upcoming winter would be warmer than usual. He mentioned seeing scores of baby lizards at what would normally be too late in the year, and wild birds setting on new clutches of eggs. I wondered myself yesterday when I saw a bird pulling rice straw out of my strawberry barrels.

Last week I heard another opinion, that the lack of sunspots of late foretells a cold winter coming. I didn’t even know what sunspots were, and will like to see how winter reveals itself. A related question of no import is whether I will remember any of this come winter!

A young woman I’d met briefly at church was at this fair, selling wool that comes from her family’s fiber mill. Another friend was at the medicinal hemp oil booth. I listened to a bright lady from the South talking for 45 minutes about fermenting, as she occasionally sipped from her bottle of kombucha. I even took extensive notes on that talk, and her recipe for kimchi, knowing full well that I will never make it.

More applicable to my life was the cherry tomato tasting, from which Linda and I and even Master Gardener people at a separate booth concluded without a doubt that Green Doctor was our favorite. It was developed by two women who are both doctors 🙂 . By contrast, I ate a little Yellow Pear, while telling the volunteer behind the table that one summer I had grown this variety and thought I must have got a “lemon” of a pear because every fruit on the vine was tasteless. She answered flatly, “They always are.”

For someone like me who avoids shopping, the shopping at this event was certainly great fun. There were two places with vintage clothing and other used items, from which I chose aprons! One seed booth featured corn, beans, and amaranth, all of which were appealingly laid out in varied and rustic baskets. I did indulge in a packet of orange amaranth seeds, and Linda bought a scoop of the Hopi type below; we will share with each other.

By the time we reached the moringa booth I still had some adventuresome energy to expend, but was slowing down a bit in the legs and feet. When I saw the jug of very green drink they were freely offering, signed “Peppermint Moringa Tea,” I helped myself to a cup, and it felt like Strengthening Medicine. From what I learned, the leaves are in fact concentrated nutritionally, but more pertinent to my situation long-term were other aspects of the plant, that it is easy to grow and can thrive in my area, and — look at these dear seeds! I have to try some. Linda bought a small tree. Now I am trying to figure out some way I might organize all my hopelessly burgeoning garden ideas.

It was refreshing to listen to a motivational speaker who was urging us, not to maximize our financial wealth, but to find ourselves and our joy by digging in the dirt and learning how to grow things. To talk to a man who has been hand-forging beautiful tools for fifty years. We hated to leave his booth, where the trowels, coat racks and trivets wanted to be hefted and stroked and admired, and their creator seemed content that they be appreciated, knowing that most of us couldn’t afford to own them.

Hundreds of people all in one place with whom one might discuss natural pest controls and sheep breeds, Mason jars and succulents…. and species of scented geraniums. Linda and I each took home a little nutmeg-scented plant which will remind us of our outing together. I have a few close friends who are fellow-gardeners and who love to share our excitement with each other, but never before have I had a day as full to the brim of like-minded folk as bright and colorful as the squashes we had come to see.

Whatever winter will bring this year, it is not yet upon us, which means more hours and days I might prepare for it, while bringing in extra basil, strawberries, and figs. Now that I’ve returned from the dream-invigorating festival, it’s back to the Real, my own garden.

A gift becomes a bisque

Two weeks ago I was given a hunk of very orange volunteer squash by the nuns at the monastery. After I baked it in the oven I wanted to eat it all just plain, because it tasted that good, and as sweet as candy.

But I had in mind to make soup using the same recipe that Kate (new nickname for my youngest) had found at Epicurious and cooked for us when she was home for Christmas. We collaborated on the soup, actually, and I’ll post here how we made it, not quite as the recipe instructed.

For example, the recipe told us to take two 2# butternut squashes, bake them, measure out the flesh and use three cups of it, then “reserve any remaining squash for another use.” If I did that sort of thing the remaining squash would get moldy in the fridge or sit in the freezer for a year or two and dry out. So we used all our squash (when Kate made it we used the true Butternuts from my garden, and they don’t come in even pound weights, by the way) and increased some other ingredients proportionally.

Curried Orange Squash Bisque

3-4# orange winter squash
olive oil
2-4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 peeled apple, chopped
2-3 teaspoons Thai red curry paste (ours was Thai Kitchen)
about a quart chicken broth
2 bay leaves (optional)
1/4 to 1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon honey (or more if your squash isn’t sweet)
1/2 cup or more sour cream, stirred smooth
chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Brush or spray the cut side of the squash with olive oil and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake at 375° for about an hour or until tender. Scoop out the squash and measure it if you care to know how much you ended up with.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots and apple. Sauté 5 minutes. Add curry paste; stir 2 minutes. Add broth, bay leaves and squash. I used the bay leaves but Kate didn’t, and I liked her soup better, though I don’t know if it had anything to do with the bay. Maybe it was the variety of apple, or some other slight difference in our preparation.

You have to accept this degree of inconsistency when you cook — well, I do.  If it’s not the amounts of ingredients that affects the finished product, it’s the differences between one squash and another, or the change from 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon of pepper that wasn’t measured. We are aiming for a hearty pot of soup, and not to become epicureans, even if we do like to search that website.

Bring the soup to a boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered 1 hour. Now, we couldn’t figure out any reason to cook it for an hour unless it was to get the flavor of bay into it, and when Kate made it we didn’t have time for that. You really only need to cook it until the vegetables are tender.

Discard the bay leaves, and purée the soup in batches in the blender or food processor. Return to the pot, stir in cream and honey and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Rewarm over medium-high heat. Divide among bowls and sprinkle with cilantro.

I forgot to take a picture with the cilantro on top….

I just now noticed that the sour cream was for drizzling over the top of the soup after it is already in the bowls. That would be pretty! But we mixed ours into the soup, and it was very tasty. The sour cream and curry gave the bisque just the right amount of zip, though I suspect that some brands of the curry would add more heat than Thai Kitchen did. If you want something spicy you’ll need to add more curry paste.

Even my husband, who despises squash, liked this soup!