Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Action in the Squash Patch

For members of my household who love pumpkin pie and butternut stew, 2009 was a disappointing year. Total number of winter squash: 2. I gleaned one Buttercup and another Spaghetti squash from six large plants. It was a lot of green square footage producing a whole lot of nothing.

After some sleuthing and input from my squash-crazy sister-in-law, we’ve deducted a pollination problem. In 2009, I had plenty of flowers and the fruit would look like it was growing then instead yellow and die.

This year, I have taken matters into my own hands and started playing ‘Birds and Bees’. The first thing to surprise me was the sheer number of available male flowers and the woeful number of willing female compatriots. The ladies are more inclined to draw their virginal petals up demurely around their centre and remain like this most of the day. In my patch, fruit-making action happens exclusively in the mornings.

So if you share my problem, or skipped the Bio class where they taught this stuff, here’s how you can increase the conception rates in your squash patch:

1. First, figure out who’s female and male. The female flowers blooms from what appears to be a miniature squash. They look like they’re growing from a new fruit while the male flower buds burst from a long, narrow stem.
Male flower easily distinguished by its continuously narrow stem.

Female flower blooms from a miniature squash.

2. Once you’ve got the sexes figured out and you chance upon both types blooming (as previously noted, this is most likely in the morning), pick the male flower. If you’re low on guys, one flower should pollinate 2-3 females.  Then, I couldn’t think of a way to write this better, so I quote from an ehow.com article:

3. “Gently pull away the petals of a male flower to expose the stamens and insert the male flower in the female flower to add pollen. Be very gentle!” http://www.ehow.com/how_5036967_hand-zucchini-winter-squash-pumpkins.html

4. If your hand gets tired, or you don’t want to bruise any male flowers' petals, try my sister-in-law’s advice: a vibrating toothbrush is the squash patch’s equivilant of Don Juan.

5. Now, sit back and watch the squash grow, though don’t get lazy with the watering. 

And, perhaps you shouldn’t let those male flowers go to seed. Start eating them, they are the rage in Italy. Even in Canada, male flowers can cost you a bundle at a farmer’s market. In this week’s Taste Section in Maclean’s Magazine, Jacob Richler reported buying eight squash flowers for $6.99 in an uptown Toronto greengrocer. He suggests you stuff them with ricotta and herbs, then dredge in flour and soda batter, next fry and serve over tomato sauce. "Nature's ravioli!" he writes.

For my first experience eating a squash flower, I kept it simple and used a recipe that my Italian neighbour passed on. A suspect idea that was the ultimate breakfast- almost better than waffles with fresh raspberries and cream.

 Squash Flowers ‘a la French Toast’

1.     Pick the male flowers when they are fully open (best in the morning).
2.     Wash. You can keep the centre stamens in, or pop out the centre. There are slight prickly spines on the outside of the flower that you can leave or remove (they aren’t hard to remove, though you run the risk of ripping the leaf- which I did).
3.     Cover flower with flour.
4.     Swirl floured flower in egg.
5.     Fry in hot oil, adding salt, pepper and spice of your choice.

Daughter Lily's first encounter with battered squash flower.
We're heading camping, but next month I report on cooking and consuming squash leaves. As well as, we'll see if I actually get my DIY solar cooker up to 200 degrees F. 


Jeff said...

Great advice, Carissa! We had a lot of flowers this year (and last) and barely a yield. So, we'll have to encourage some lovemaking to happen out back. Does Barry White help at all?

Ruth and I love reading your blog -- it's even bookmarked in our browser, so keep up the great work! :-)

An Avenue Homesteader said...

If Barry White doesn't work try Flight of the Bumblebees!