Summer squash

By Tom Seymour | Jul 16, 2020
Photo by: Tom Seymour Early Summer Crookneck is Tom Seymour's favorite yellow squash.

Zucchini and yellow summer squash both hail from the Americas. That may come as a surprise, since zucchinis are Italian. Their ancestors were brought to Europe from South America and Mexico in the early 19th century and from there, various new forms developed. The Italians were particularly fond of these thin-skinned squash.

In fact, the name zucchini is derived from the Italian word, “zucca.” It took over 100 years for Italian zucchini squash to arrive in America. This seems a circuitous route, but summer squash aren’t the only American vegetable to travel to Europe. Potatoes stand out as a shining example of this.

Zucchini squash also goes by quite another name in South Africa. There, it is called, “baby marrow.” My package of Cocozelle Italian squash (zucchini by another name) has as a subtitle, “vegetable marrow.”

Call it what you will, we all recognize zucchini squash in any form, no matter the title.

I love nothing better than to go to the garden and pick several 7-inch zucchinis from my EarthBox. Back in the house, the tiny squash are rinsed and sliced into rounds. The rounds are then rolled in flour, coated with seasonings (I’m a nut for Cajun seasonings) and garlic and fried to a golden brown.

My grandma used to make an egg batter for cooking zucchinis, but I feel that one egg in the morning is quite enough for anyone. For those so inclined, dip the zuke slices in beaten eggs before rolling in flour.

Another twist, this one my own, is to briefly sauté the zucchini slices and then drop in a Tempura batter before frying. This makes a nice, puffy coating and adds a distinctive flavor.

Finally, zucchini can be cut up into rounds or even squares and simmered in water. Drain thoroughly and add seasoning just prior to serving. And remember, the smaller the zucchini, the better it tastes and the firmer the texture.

Yellow Squash

Summer squash, the yellow answer to zucchini, have a slightly different taste. They are sweet and nutty and of the two, yellow summer squash rank as my preferred summer vegetable.

Summer squash come in all kinds of forms, warted, smooth, straight and crookneck. They all taste pretty much the same.

I’ve grown the straight, smooth variety for many years, but this year saw a problem. I planted my seed, but cold, wet weather caused the seed to rot. This wasn’t apparent to me, though, for quite some time. Then, I had to go out seed-shopping and by that time, most racks were sold out.

I did manage to find a packet of a heritage variety, Early Summer Crookneck, a warted type. This may have proven fortunate, since this squash has a great history. Introduced to colonial gardeners in the early 18th century by the native Lenape people of the Delaware Valley, the strain became so popular that it is still in production today.

Early Summer Crookneck ranks among the earliest, oldest, varieties of squash and as a lover of history, it pleases me greatly to grow it in my home garden.

My cooking method differs a bit from the way I prepare zucchini. First the squash is rinsed and sliced into rounds and the rounds placed in a small baggie with plain wheat flour and shaken so as to evenly cover all the rounds. Then the floured rounds are placed in an iron fry pan.

At this point, I sprinkle a liberal portion of garlic powder on the rounds and also, sprinkle with crushed, red pepper flakes. That’s it. The slices are fried to a golden brown and served steaming hot.

Unlike winter, or “keeper” squash, summer squash will not keep for long after picking. A week in the fridge is about it. But there is a way to preserve your summer squash for winter use, and it’s easy.

Just slice the squash into rounds, place the rounds in a freezer bag and place the filled bag in the freezer. The squash don’t even need to be thawed before use. Just add them to recipes or simply drop in a saucepan with a scant amount of water and turn on the heat. Squash preserved in this way don’t lend themselves to frying because they are too soft. But in winter, any summer squash is better than no summer squash.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something most of you already know. That is, don’t allow your summer squash, yellow or zucchini, to grow to large sizes. I realize there are always hidden giants. Growing in a raised container such as an EarthBox helps us to ferret out these hidden mammoths.

Even if you don’t plan on eating your squash right away, pick them all at 7 inches or less and if some go to waste, so be it. This will keep the plant producing like mad. Good luck and happy eating.

Tom Seymour of Waldo is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

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