Posts Tagged ‘butternut’

The garden year: winners and losers


Like most gardeners, I try a lot of new stuff every year. Some of it fails, some is good enough to make a nice novelty but not good enough to make the long-term cut, and some new items become a part of my regular line-up.
This was a tough year for my garden, and everything that survived deserves some credit. The blistering heat, unusual for this area, and a lot of neglect on my part due to other pressing matters made for a veritable Darwinian demo of natural selection in action.

A special Most Tolerant Vegetable award goes to sweet potatoes. They might get an award for Most Nutritious Vegetable, too, and possibly for Most Delicious Vegetable. No matter what kind I plant, they seem to flourish. I pick so many of the leaves off for greens and salads that it’s a wonder they survive, but I got a very nice crop of roots too. I tend to like the dry yellow types better than the moister orange types, but the latter are healthier to eat, so plant both. Can’t beat ’em. Grow plenty.
The other winners were:

Squash: Waltham Butternut, Chiriman and Kikuza, three C. moschata subtypes. They were resistant to borers, laughed off squash bugs, and soaked up the heat. All had delicious flesh when cured, a little on the moist side but sweet, stringless, and close in quality to my beloved Buttercup, which I can’t grow here because the borers always get it. They were watered irregularly and tolerated that.

Greens: Malva sylvestris. This is an attractive ornamental with mauve flowers, and it makes good healthy leaves for greens in the hottest weather. I’ve chosen it over my old favorite Malva verticillata because it’s a more ornamental plant and equally good to eat. It’s less prolific, but that’s a good thing.

Chicory “Trieste sweet”. This was advertised as less bitter than other chicories, but in my garden it wasn’t. That’s fine with me, since I love the light clean bitterness of well-grown chicory in a salad, and this one was a very strong grower with pretty light green smooth leaves.

Carrot: “Purple Rain.” I love purple carrots for some reason, and the darker the better. This one fit the bill, dark purple right to the core. See chunks of it, loaded with anthocyanins, in the post “Root Vegetables Chairoscuro.”

Parsnips: “Turga.” I only grew a few, and next year I’ll be growing a lot more. They tolerated heat and drought and heavy clay soil. By December when not much else is available fresh, they’re sweet and delicious. They don’t need any special storage for the winter; just leave them in the ground and dig them whenever the ground isn’t frozen.

Potatoes: Red Norland. I adore Peruvian Purple potatoes and have always grown a lot of them,  but this year they were a complete crop failure, while ordinary Red Norlands came through shining, as they always do. So experiment all you like with exotic potatoes, but have a few hills of the Old Reliable. Even if you don’t have room to grow main crop potatoes for storage, you’ll want a few hills to dig for gossamer-skinned new potatoes.

Spinach: America. This very old hybrid is still going strong. Not as big as some, not as smooth as some, not as savoyed as some, it just produced lots of tasty leaves in cold weather and in hot, unruffled by the changes that nature threw at it.

Swiss chard: Fordhook Giant. For years I flirted with the multicolor types, but they don’t produce as well as this old stalwart, and I grow leafy greens to eat, not to look at. It mixes nicely with flowers.

The losers:

Squash: Sucrine de berry and Musque de Provence. Both had come highly recommended by the catalog for flavor and lack of fiber, and unfortunately both were just awful. Both had stringy unpleasant flesh, and Musque had very little sweetness or flavor of any kind while Sucrine was watery and had a strong unpleasant scent and taste that one taster described as “Squnk.” Both were vine-ripened and cured for two months, so I can only assume that the seedstock was not pure, but since I rely on winter squash for a lot of my winter vegetable supply, I can’t take a chance on them again.  They are quite decorative on the end of my dining room table, and the chickens will eat the flesh if I bake it for them, but that wasn’t my plan for my squash supply.

Summer squash: Trombocino. This is a vining summer squash that gets high marks for flavor in some catalogs. I can only say that in my garden it was hugely prolific but had no flavor at all.  I’ll be going back to some zucchinis that I like better to eat.

Mirliton These are a common vegetable in Louisiana where I grew up, and they love heat, so I thought that if I supplied water they would do well here. Unfortunately, they shriveled in our dry heat. They might do better if given some shade, and I’ll probably try that this summer.

Milk thistle: I was bamboozled by some foragers into introducing this pernicious weed to my yard. It’s very pretty in an architectural way, but the leaves are touchy to pick, prickle removal is somewhat tedious, and the green that you’re left with doesn’t taste that great. The flavor isn’t bad, but certainly it isn’t anything I’d go out of my way to eat. And once having introduced them, they take hold with frightening avidity. Better not to get started with them. By the way, some people on the Internet say that if you boil the leaves, they can be eaten prickles and all, to which I say “Bah.” Further, I say that they’ve never really tried it. I would buy a ticket to watch one of those people eat a plate of thistle boiled stickers-and-all.

Squash without end, amen


I love winter squash, and they can be hard to grow here in central New Mexico because of our thriving population of squash borers. The vine grows beautifully and sets baby squash in a responsible fashion, then one day it wilts, then it dies. I have tried all the organic “remedies” listed in the books, and don’t think that any of them are worth my time, in that the vine may survive (barely) but the chance of a good crop is nil. So this year I tried to beat the borers genetically. I grew only squash varieties of the species Cucurbita moschata, which is rumored to be borer-resistant. All I can say is, there are no guarantees in gardening, but I didn’t lose a single vine and my garage shelves are heaped with squash.
To use this method, you have to find a catalog that identifies squash by species as well as varietal name. I got mine from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They are a great source for interesting heirlooms. I chose five varieties: Waltham Butternut, Musquee de Provence, Kikuza, Chiriman, and Sucrine du berry. All bore fairly well, although the sucrine du berry were the clear winners in terms of total pounds of squash. So far, the Kikuza are the best in flavor and texture, but I’ve only tasted three of the five varieties so far.
My favorite way to eat squash is halved,seeded, and roasted, with maple syrup or agave nectar and a pat of butter in the hollow. They will roast nicely at any temperature from 350 to 425 degrees, although of course they need more oven time at lower temps. Be sure to roast them long enough, by the way. The flesh should be soft and the syrup well sunken into the flesh. My preference in squash is a sweet dry flesh with no stringiness about it. To let any squash reach its best potential, it’s important to leave them on the vine as long as possible. Often the vines will die back in late fall, signaling harvest time, but if they don’t, harvest the evening that your first frost is predicted. It’s tempting to harvest them earlier when the skin hardens and they look mature, but this is the road to stringy watery flesh. Let the vine do its work. Once harvested, be careful not to bump or bruise them and set them on shelves in a cool place, not touching each other. I like to set several of mine on one end of my dining room table, where they look opulent and festive, but be sure to cook them within a month, since storage conditions in the average dining room are not ideal. The ones kept in a cooler (but not refrigerated) place will often keep well until January or February, but they do lose quality if kept too long. If you suspect that they are past their peak, roast them as described above and freeze the flesh.
I see a lot of recipes for squash that involve steaming the flesh, but I would never bother with them steamed. Roasting brings out the lovely caramelly notes and gives a rich flavor. Whenever I have something baking that doesn’t fill up the whole oven, I roast a split squash in the remaining space, and since the halves keep well in the refrigerator and are even better warmed up a day or two later, I have a handy adjunct to a meal waiting. If you have chickens, don’t forget to give them the stuff you scooped out when preparing the squash. They relish the nutrient-rich seeds. I also give the scooped-out shells to the chickens after dinner, and they enjoy those too.