It’s been a long time since I’ve had a truly terrible squash, or at least it had been until I tried Blue Doll last night. It looked like a potential winner, with its Buttercup-like blocky shape and little undeveloped Turban-butt. I was hoping for a dry, dense, sweet flesh when I put it in the oven last night. Removing it from the oven, the signs were already not good: pools of water formed in the seed cavities. The pale yellow flesh browned nicely, but it was about as dry, sweet, and dense as you would expect an overgrown zucchini to be after an hour in the oven. Hard pass.
This wasn’t a squash war, it was not even a battle.
It’s winter squash season again finally. And I found a variety of squash at the farmers’ market that I’ve never seen or tried before:Melonette Jaspee Vendée. I bought it as soon as I saw it, and then ended up chatting with the squash woman for 20 minutes after that, but left feeling not hopeful that this would be a new favourite. She said they had had a difficult growing year, and that the best she could say about this variety is that it made it through the season. She was like “it won’t be your favourite, but it’s sweet” which was not promising to me at all. I like dense and meaty, and not necessarily sweet.
I was pleasantly surprised when I baked it though: it has a texture similar to spaghetti squash, though not as noodle-y, but with a bit of buttery-mapley flavour, and not too sweet. It’s distinct from other squash I’ve had, and even if I wouldn’t trade honeynut or kabocha up for it, it could make a nice change once in a while.
Unlike winter squash, people often don’t know the varietal of the summer squash they are selling. I tried three from the farmer’s market that the sellers couldn’t identify- a yellow one with a bulbous end and light yellow stripes, a small green striped one, and a short, plump light green one. Looking at The Compleat Squash, my best guess is that the small striped one is Striato d’Italia and the plump green one is Costata Romanesco. That book didn’t have any striped yellow summer squashes, but a seed catalogue online has a similar looking hybrid squash called Sunbeam.
Yellow: not much flavour when raw. Grilled, it had a nice flavour but didn’t stand out from other squash I have had.
Small Green: buttery and delicious when raw. This one actually surprised me – I haven’t had a squash that tasted like this before. Grilled or sautéed it did not stand out from the other squashes, though.
Plump green: unpleasantly astringent when raw. Fine, but nothing special when grilled or sauteed.
It looks like a cantaloupe on the outside. It looks like a honeydew on the inside. Galia a hybrid melon (but not a honeydew cantaloupe cross), and I got a local one from the food co-op recently. It has a pretty subtle flavour: sort of like a cantaloupe, but without the musky taste. The texture is a little softer than a honeydew, but not as meaty as a cantaloupe. I like it, but it’s not blowing me away or anything.
The first summer squash of the season that I chose was yellow crookneck – this the best I could find readily available in Toronto last summer. The skin and flesh are tender even when fairly large, and even better it retains a subtle squash-y flavour when large as well; it’s not some bland generic zucchini. I don’t think it quite matches the sweet, nutty flavour of the Italian summer squash I grew in PEI, but it’s tasty raw and cooked. I grilled it for one meal, and ate it raw as squash “noodles” for another. The challenge for the summer will be to see if I can find any summer squash locally that beats last year’s best.
OK, so the winter squash, my first (curcubit) love, is long gone for the year, and it will be months until it returns*.
But, we soldier on, and there are summer squashes, melons, and other interesting squash relations to try.
Today I made winter melon soup, basically a simple, light scallion and ginger broth with shiitakes and cilantro, good for summer and also suitable for this subtle-flavoured melon. So, winter melon, aka ash gourd: once it was cooked in the soup, it just tasted like the broth but had a texture similar to raw cantaloupe. It was enjoyable but not earth-shattering. I wouldn’t mind eating it again, but probably won’t go out of my way. I did taste a chunk of it raw, and liked it a lot more – I could taste the fresh, delicate flavour sort of like an unsweetened honeydew melon but crunchy like a watermelon. I would use it in a fruit salad, or make a salsa of it with tomatoes and cilantro, or add it to a vegetable salad.
*On the plus side, one of my favourite squash farmers has planted (for the first time) and agreed to pre-sell me as many tiger stripe butternut squash as I want, come the Fall
The last local winter squash ran out a little while ago but I ate my final squash today; it was the miso-fermented squash I put away in early March.
The inspiration for the recipe came from the book Preserving the Japanese Way – an amazing book (available at the Toronto Public Library) full of unusual fermentation recipes. I just left it a lot longer than the book called for. The sliced squash basically just sat in two types of miso, a little salt, and homemade Japanese 7-spice for 4 months, which soften, flavoured, and soured the squash over time in the fridge. It’s not pretty, but it’s tasty.