By Za Drumm
Most everyone is familiar with the common garden vegetable, the squash, and if you have a vegetable garden in New England, the chances that you regularly grow your own is quite high. Highly adapted to this region over thousands of years, an obvious choice in any garden. Squash has been grown in the Americas and a staple crop for Native Americans and then for Colonial settlers later on. Winter squash being particularly important for its storage capabilities in the long northern winters. The oldest squash seeds date back to 12,000 years ago, preserved in Ecuadorian caves.
Generally grouped into the two categories, summer and winter, depending on when they are typically harvested, Summer Squash is technically harvested while immature, a more tender and edible skin, like the yellow crookneck for example and Winter squash is left to mature into the fall until the rinds are much tougher and the seeds fully developed, like a pumpkin or acorn squash. Less common these days is the Native American heirloom, the White Scallop summer squash. Traditionally a white, shallow squash with a round scalloped edge, with varieties in yellow and green as well. Often called the Pattypan squash and popular in Europe after its introduction in the early 1700s. The flesh is tender and usually harvested when only 3 inches in diameter, great for baking, fried and breaded and often served with the flesh scooped out, and it even pickles well, commonly done in Poland. One of the oldest domesticated squash varieties is the Long Island Cheese. Named for its similarities to a large cheese wheel, the pale pumpkin is excellent for baking with a smooth and sweet flesh. Originally gaining popularity in the 1800s for its use in pumpkin pies and remaining a staple until the 1940s and 1950s, adorning most farm stands every fall. It fell out of popularity and disappeared from seed catalogues not long after however, perhaps because of the convenience food boom; canned pumpkin and frozen ready-made pies. Now known as a Long Island, NY heirloom, and saved from extinction by more and more seed savers, this delicious variety is making a comeback.
Squash is a clear choice for the New England vegetable garden, highlighted by its legacy and centuries of cultivation. There is little a squash can’t do, from fresh summer eating to fall jack o’ lanterns and a late winter hearty meal addition. Plant some in your garden this year!