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Squash Basket

Meet the Squash

by John Raven, Ph.B.

Squash have been cultivated by man in the Americas for some eight to ten thousand years. To the Native Americans their "Three Sisters", who fed them and kept them healthy, were squash, corn and beans. The most important feature of the Three Sisters was the fact that they could be stored for later use. Once dried and kept in a dry place, corn and beans would keep for years. Summer squash could be dried for later use. Winter squash would keep without processing in a cool place through the winter. Melons belong to this same family but we will save them for a later examination.

When I was growing up on the farm, we had two types of squash, the crookneck yellow squash and the white pattypan squash. These are both summer squash and the immature fruit is used. Both these varieties of squash are getting harder to find in stores. The crookneck has been replaced with its cousin, the straight neck, because the straight ones are easier to stack for display. There is probably a reason why the pattypan is becoming scarce, but I don't know what it is.

Zucchini is included in the summer squash group. All the summer squash should be used before they become fully mature. When they mature, the skins and seeds become tough. To me, the perfect size for zucchini and yellow squash is about four inches in length. You can go to about six inches on them, but anything over this you are taking a chance. The patty pan is best when about four inches in diameter. I have used zucchini that were three inches in diameter and near a foot and a half long. You have to remove the seeds and skin from these big 'uns, but the meat is still very good.

Squash blossoms are considered a delicacy in some arenas. I think the attraction is mostly the idea of eating flowers.

The winter squash include butternut, hubbard, acorn, spaghetti, pumpkins and many others. Unlike summer squash, the winter varieties are harvested when they are mature. This means the skins and seeds must be removed to make them table ready. The squash can be baked, boiled or microwaved depending on the recipe.

Pumpkins can range in size from as large as a baseball to several hundred pound whoppers. The principal use of pumpkins is making scary jack-o'lanterns for Halloween. The meat of the pumpkin that is extracted in the process of making jack-o'lanterns usually becomes the ubiquitous pumpkin pie.

My family never made jack-o'lanterns. Mama and Daddy just stuck a candle in my mouth and set me on the porch.

The squash you see on the produce counters that are weird shapes, colors and sizes are still squash. I really doubt any of them has characteristics that would make them better than any of the rest, other than being interesting to look at. I am not much on experimenting with exotic varieties of staples. If you are the adventurous type, go ahead on.

The tender squash don't need cooking before going on the table. As long as the skin and seeds are within acceptable boundaries, they can be eaten raw as a finger food or included in various salads. The squash don't have a whole lot of flavor, but the texture of raw squash is very good. They also act as a fine butter delivery system.

Mama's fried squash
Our favorite family recipe for squash was fried squash. Mama used the yellow crooknecks. The squash are washed and dried. You slice them into half inch slices. You will need either a saucepan or skillet with a lid.

Put some butter or other grease in the pan and let it melt over medium heat. When the grease is hot, add the squash and stir them around to get all coated. Then reduce the heat a bit and put the lid on. Let them simmer until they are very tender. Remove the lid and raise the temperature a bit to evaporate the water that has cooked out of the squash. Careful not to let them scorch. You do want to cook them until they are just browning. Season with salt and pepper or with Lawry’s seasoned salt. This makes a very good side dish for most any meat.

Raven's Squash Patties
My favorite recipe for squash is fried patties. Start with summer squash. Dice the squash very fine, about 1/8 inch if you can manage it. If you shred or slice squash with the food processor, there is too much water released to have a good product.

Beat a fresh egg in a good size bowl. Add the squash and about a half teaspoon of minced onion per squash. Salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Add yellow cornmeal a little at a time until you get a mix that will stick together. Form patties about a half inch thick and four inches in diameter. Fry in your choice of fat until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm with ketchup.

You can deep-fry squash either breaded or in batter. Just use small size portions of squash so they will fry quickly. Too long in the hot oil makes the squash sweat and the batter comes off.

Spaghetti squash
Spaghetti squash can be baked or microwaved until tender. Split it down the middle and spoon out the seeds. Shred the meat with a fork. It will be stringy and have a semi-spaghetti look to it. A pat of butter and a little salt and pepper makes it table ready. Now if you like the spaghetti squash, you can have my part of them. To me, eating spaghetti squash is like trying to eat a string mop.

Stuffed Pattypan Squash
  • 1 cup grated zucchini
  • 1 cup grated yellow summer squash
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 small pattypan squash
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Toss together the zucchini, yellow squash and salt. Let stand 30 minutes; then drain well. Press between layers of paper towels to remove excess moisture. Set aside.

Cook pattypan squash in boiling salted water to cover 8 to 10 minutes or until tender but still firm. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Cut a 1/2-inch slice from the stem end of each squash. Scoop out the seeds, leaving the shells intact. Place shells in a 9x13-inch pan that has been sprayed with vegetable cooking spray.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the zucchini, yellow squash, onion, thyme and pepper for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and spoon an equal amount into each pattypan shell. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

Baked Acorn Squash with Apples and Pecans
  • 2 medium acorn squash (1 to 1-1/4 pounds each)
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 2 cups chopped, unpeeled apple
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut acorn squash in half and remove the seeds. Place each squash half, cut side up, in a shallow baking dish (a 9x13-inch Pyrex baking dish works well).

Combine the brown sugar, butter and chopped apple. Spoon an equal amount into each squash shell. Add boiling water to the baking pan to a depth of 1/2 inch.

Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 1 hour or until squash is tender. Sprinkle each squash shell with chopped pecans before serving. Makes 4 servings.
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