Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Summer squash is a rewarding and easy vegetable to grow. The tiny tender fruit come along reliably once the plant reaches a decent size. Apart from a long-ago problem with borers and the occasional fruit rot in really moist conditions (Aspergillus, I think), I've experienced few pest problems. Those first succulent fruit are so tasty, just steamed or lightly sautéed. This year I grew two varieties, Magda, a kousa-type squash from Park Seed, and Supersett, a yellow crook-neck from Renee's Garden. (I consider zucchini to be bitter and overrated.) I was so late getting started that I just direct-seeded into warm garden soil rather than starting plants early in peat pots. Even so, the plants were generous. We had both squashes, sometimes one at a time and sometimes as a mixture. I like to cook slices with just a little butter and some fresh dill, and steam them in my grandmother's old chicken fryer. Magda has a subtle fresh flavor and Supersett is sweeter, with a bonus for cooking them till they are slightly caramelized but not scorched.

After a while we get a little more jaded and I start making squash gratin. This has various versions. I cut and steam the squash briefly before placing in a baking dish, usually with onions sautéed in butter, and perhaps some red or green pepper. Then either I make a white sauce (best with a little grind of nutmeg) or just drizzle some cream straight over the fruit after salting and peppering. Add a generous sprinkling of gruyère or Swiss cheese, and bake till bubbling and a light brown on top. I used to add buttered bread crumbs but this makes a heavy dish. If made with a large quantity of squash and a white sauce enriched with cream, the dish freezes well.

Eventually the squash stay in the produce drawer longer and longer as the season progresses and the generosity of the vines begins to overwhelm the menu. Even with various innovative ways to slip them into mixed vegetable dishes and soups, the delight of the early summer has become the albatross of the refrigerator.

Finally I go to the garden and find the dreaded Submarine. These are a known terror. Gardeners offer them to their friends and leave them on porches. Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral) admits to locking her door to keep from having them left in her kitchen. About this time of year (late August to September), newspaper food columns begin to feature recipes for zucchini bread and offer chirpy suggestions like "scoop out the seeds and stuff". But after years of guilty efforts to use this bounty, my advice is — Compost. The goodness of the earth will be enhanced next year and you will still have the courage to plant squash again in the spring.

By now the Squash Monster is in full cry, with a new Submarine, it seems, every time I go to the garden. At least this year I didn't grow Renee's "Trombetta di Albenga" squash - a horrifyingly prolific long-necked squash that is at least a foot long even in youth. I would advise growing this squash only if you have (a.) a family of 10 to feed; or (b.) a distant relative has come to stay, rent-free, for the duration. Squash soup, squash casserole, baked stuffed squash, squash bread and squash omelettes should take care of that problem.


Anonymous said...

I just got a ton of summer squash in my farm share. Squash bread? Any recipes?? That might work....

Buttercup said...

There are a lot of recipes out there for zucchini bread. They are a lot like pumpkin bread with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. I don't have one but I think a web search would bring up about the same number as last year's national debt.

Ratatouille is also a classic use of squash, mixed with eggplant, peppers,tomato and onion. Again, lots of recipes out there.