Squash - How to Cook and Grow

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I get a real sense of achievement from growing squashes; from nurturing the young seedlings to watching them grow (and grow!) into fine specimens of superb eating quality for an autumn harvest is quite something. The varieties of squash are many and I always grow a selection, which offer a mixture of shapes, sizes and most importantly eating quality.

The squash family includes marrow, melon, courgette, gourd, pumpkin, cucumber and of course squash itself with the majority of the varieties being edible there are some, which are used for decoration.

Squash falls into two main types; summer and winter. The summer squashes tend to be quick growing with thin skins, which make peeling unnecessary (think courgettes) and make for interesting alternative vegetable dishes. The winter squash such as pumpkin are much tougher with thick skin and hard seeds but equally as delicious.


Box of Squashes
 

How to Grow

I tend to grow the same varieties mainly because of their eating quality and the fact that I will be guaranteed a good crop of vegetables which I know I will like eating. These usually include Turks Turban (for its remarkable appearance if nothing else), Buttercup (superb flavour), Delicata (sweet and delicious) and a pumpkin such as Jack be Little or Connecticut Field. I have learnt my lesson about sowing squash too early, I used to think they would need a long growing season because of their size but a late spell of cold weather ruined my first attempt and now I wait until late May. Once the seedlings have developed true leaves I leave them to harden off before planting out. Squash need rich soil with plenty of water and good drainage, give the planting site plenty of compost beforehand and watch them grow! Allow plenty of room for the plants to stretch out, even if you cut some of the flowers back to encourage less but bigger fruits they still take over a large part of the garden. I usually harvest the fruits at the end of September or early October, feel the fruit, if they are heavy and the skin is thick and dull in appearance then they are ready. Once picked leave them out in the sunshine for as long as possible, the skin needs to harden if you wish to store them for any length of time.

How to Cook

Squash can be underestimated for its flavour, it can be quite sweet and roasting helps to accentuate its natural flavour although it responds very well to other spices and flavour notes. They make superb soups, a simple yet satisfying puree flavoured with little more than a pinch of nutmeg, ginger or garam masala. Winter squash need peeling prior to chopping and cooking so a sharp knife is essential. Take a small slice off each end of the squash so that it sits true on the chopping board, place the knife blade close to the edge of the skin and carefully cut downwards away from your body trying to follow the shape and contours of the squash as you cut. Remove the seeds with a spoon and cut the squash into equal size pieces. They are an excellent accompaniment to meat and game dishes or baked whole and stuffed with a filling of your choice.

Recipes

Content and picture Miles Collins

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