Aley Chubeza # 26 – July 5-7 2010

This week’s newsletter will commence with a sweet message:

Finally, news from our honey division! Tamir and Daniella visited us last week, bringing a new stock of fresh honey jars from this season’s honey collection. There’s no raspberry yet, and there may not be any at all since it didn’t get cold enough in the Golan for the blueberries, raspberries and cherries. On the other hand, Daniella and Tamir are offering a new flavor- jujube honey. A reminder of the varieties available: wildflower honey (1 kg, 1/2 kilo or 350 gr), 1 kg of blueberry blossom honey (still in stock), eucalyptus blossom honey (1 kg and 1/2 kg), 1 kg kiwi honey, and our new jujube honey (1 kg).

Prices:
350 gram: 24 NIS
1/2 kg: 29 NIS
1 kg: 48 NIS

After contemplating the state of the sensitive honeycomb, we decided to offer jarred honeycombs instead of individual honeycombs which are more delicate and difficult to package and send. These are honey jars with a capacity of 1 kg, which include honey and honeycomb. The price of the honey/honeycomb combination is 60 NIS per jar. If you’ve already ordered a honeycomb, I will soon send you a request to confirm the order. If you haven’t yet and wish to order, do so now! I will try to organize the orders this week and forward them to Daniella. Please let me know ASAP!

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Of  Squash, Large and Small

I’d like to coin a new term: “cucurbitacean (kyoo-kur-bit-ase-en) n. A person who regards pumpkins or squashes with deep, often rapturous love. This love manifests in many ways, but is always characterized by a pervasive pattern of attachment and an abiding concern for the preservation of the species (Cucurbita spp.).” I invite you to join the club.

(Amy Goldman, The Complete Squash)

Our farm is proud to host our prestigious summer guests, the Cucurbits family. Among the many vegetables belonging to this family are cucumbers, fakus, zucchini, melons, and, of course, the many varieties of squash and pumpkins. Every year we try to invite new members, like the long and striped zucchini, the small “icebox” watermelon and the orange kabocha squash, who are all among this year’s new arrivals.

Every year, too, we meet new or familiar challenges, enjoy the surprises and successes, and try to learn from failures to improve from year to year, while accepting the laws of nature and limitations of Israeli and local agriculture in our Ayalon valley open fields.

Over the past few weeks, our small and medium-sized hard squashes have been sneaking into the boxes, and in their honor I wish to refresh the memory with some stories and information about squash, specifically our variety.

Within the gourd family, the curcubita genus includes summer and winter squashes and pumpkins. The cucumber, fakus, melon and watermelon belong to other genera. But actually, the distinction between zucchini and summer squash on one hand and winter squash and pumpkins on the other, derives from their varying uses. We pick the zucchini and summer squash when they are not yet ripe, their peeling is thin, and their seeds still young and soft. We eat them along with their (relatively) soft skin. But they are actually very similar to pumpkins!

The squash and various pumpkins are seeded in an open field in their natural season, which begins in the spring, and they grow from spring till the end of summer. We pick the zucchini and summer squash quickly, sometimes 40 days after they have been seeded. Since we pick the plant and its fruit before it had the chance to produce fertile seeds, it continues to try, producing more and more seeded fruit, in order to do what all plants (and animals) try to do: distribute their genes. Thus we are rewarded with a long harvest season by plants that keep on producing. Summer squash and zucchini don’t keep for long, which is why in the past, before the era of greenhouses, they were only eaten in their natural seasons: spring and summer.

Contrary to those, the various winter squashes and pumpkins (big and small) are harvested in their maturity when they are ripe, their peeling is hard and thick, and their seeds big and hard. As we wait for them to fully mature, they are picked three to five months after seeding (depending on how big the fruit is supposed to be). This time schedule brings us from mid-summer until autumn. Because of the hard peeling the pumpkins and winter squashes develop, they keep well, some up to six months, and therefore can be eaten during wintertime as well. This virtue was especially significant in North America, their homeland, in areas where it is too cold to grow food during wintertime. They were easily kept in storage, adding sweetness and summer taste to the cold winter days.

In the early years at Chubeza, we would seed large pumpkins at the end of wintertime and the winter squashes in June (the way we did it in California). This timing was right for the North American farmers, who want their ripe pumpkins and winter squashes later in the season, towards the fall pumpkin fairs of October. But in Israel, the viruses attack the poor gourd family and have a ball during summertime. The lack of harvests and the unsuccessful battles steadily weakened us. Every year we grew fewer and fewer small pumpkins, from seven pumpkins the first year to four the next, to ever-diminishing numbers in successive years. Only two years ago did we realize that our timing was off. Instead of waiting to plant these winter squashes later, causing them pain and sorrow as they combat viruses, we decided to seed them earlier, like their zucchini and summer squash brethren or the big pumpkin. And we were right! The harvest boxes in the shed are exploding with butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash and kabocha.  Some of them you’ve already met: the acorn, butternut and kabocha. Others are on their way…

This week I’ll put them in order and tell you a little about the nice variety of winter squash in our field:

Let’s start with the squash you’ve already met, our little acorn, also known in Israel by the name “chestnut squash.” It belongs to the most varied of the squash varieties, cucurbita pepo, the family of spaghetti squash; the familiar summer zucchini; ornamental squash used in Central and South America to make musical instruments and bowls; as well as the round pumpkins used by Americans to carve for Halloween. Its origins are in Mexico and the U.S. where the Indians cultivated the early types. The elongated soft zucchinis were developed in Europe over the last centuries. The dark green acorn which the Americans stubbornly claim is heart-shaped was presented in 1913 by the Iowa Seed Company, to which it had arrived from either Denmark or North Dakota. It was enthusiastically received because of its excellent taste as well as its small size and soft skin. In the U.S., where dinner is sometimes eaten in solitude, it was an ideal one-man portion and was also suitable for stuffing. It contains more vitamin C and calcium than other pumpkins and less vitamin A. If you treat it nicely, it can keep for a few months!

The charming kabocha (Japanese for pumpkin) belongs to the cucurbita maxima species, and buttercup group, developed in North Dakota at the end of the 1920′s as a substitute for the sweet potato (in the pre-global-village era). After several years of cultivation, it was given extensive cooking tests in the home-ec department, where a panel of judges graded the texture, taste, color, sweetness and more. The chemistry department calculated the content of the dry substance in the pumpkin, compared to other species. Our friend the buttercup won! Our specific squash, the kabocha, aka  Japanese squash, is loved and admired in Japan. Two decades ago, a California seed company seeded the kabocha in order to provide a plentiful supply for the Japanese, who bought the entire harvest. This squash is truly lovely, its skin is dry, sweet and very rich, and feels like a cross between squash and a sweet potato. The maxima group to which our big pumpkin (the Tripolitania) belongs has a survival habit of sending roots where the stem touches the earth, thus receiving complementary nutrition. Several attempts to remind it of its boundaries failed miserably. The maxima contains more protein than other squash and is rich in vitamins A and C. It can patiently wait on the kitchen counter for two to three months.

The kabocha grows nicely here, and after successful past years we decided to try another variety, orange on the outside as well. Its commercial title is Sunshine, and we hope it will indeed bring sunshine to your hearts and stomachs. Here’s what it looks like:

Another member of this colorful parade is the butternut squash, otherwise known as cucurbita moschata, apparently from Columbia (where there is a huge variety of this specie).

It usually enjoys the warmer and moister tropical climate, and doesn’t do well in cold weather. Perhaps this is why it is the most popular species in Israel. The early members of this type sported a round torso (where the seed space is) and a long, sometimes curved neck. Over the years other types were developed, with a fatter and shorter neck, in order to provide a plentiful product suitable for market demand. They can be picked at an early stage, like summer squash, and are in fact very tasty (some say better than regular zucchini) even at their young stage. They are fun to grow in the garden, picking some of them as summer squash, and allowing others to fully mature until they become the familiar butternut squashes.

Within the group of muscats there is the interesting group of “cheese pumpkins” which earned their name from their cream color and round cheese shape.

We began growing these pumpkins last year, the Musquee de Provence (scent of Province). Its origins are in France, and it grows well here as well. This pumpkin is medium-sized, meaning it will probably appear in your boxes as a slice, like the “common” Tripolitean pumpkin. It is closer in taste to the butternut than the pumpkin, i.e., sweeter.

Because of the smooth peeling of the muscat (the buttercup and Provence), they are easy to peel, even with a regular vegetable peeler. They are sweet and their skin turns smooth after cooking, although there are those who claim that baking is better for them. They are rich in vitamin A and under good conditions may be kept up to six months (but can you restrain yourselves that long?).

The spaghetti squash is one of the most distinctive squash we grow. Its uniqueness is expressed by the fact that after cooking, its flesh can be ferreted out with a fork, and then comes the magic: the cooked insides separate into thin “noodles,” not unlike spaghetti. It tastes like a cross between a pumpkin and a squash, not as sweet as a pumpkin or butternut but sweeter than the zucchini. This is why the “spaghetti noodles” can be eaten just like you would east pasta: with tomato sauce, olive oil and herbs, pesto, Parmesan etc.

This is not genetic engineering nor even a crossbreeding or modern development. This is a true heirloom that originated, like the rest of the squash, in Central or North America. From the outside, the mature fruit is yellow and elliptic, and this is the type that became popular in Israel 15-20 years ago. Some years ago the oranghetti squash was developed, an orange spaghetti squash enriched with beta-carotene, with sweeter skin. This variety can sometimes be found in Israel.

As the small winter squashes are quicker to ripen than the large Tripoletean pumpkins, we usually distribute them first, as an entrée before the big pumpkins. They will be with us until the end of summer, all the way to autumn. In the meantime, if you don’t wish to cook winter squash in the great heat, they can be used as decorative ornaments, for these attractive accessories can keep up to two months.

Before we depart, we would like to extend warm wishes and embraces to Aliza and Melanie, our loyal English translators, upon the birth of their son and grandson, respectively. A few days after his birth, little Yoav became a full partner in the translation of last week’s newsletter. We thank him as well.

Wishing you a good summery week, and a relaxing beginning of summer vacation,

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team

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This week’s basket includes:

Monday: potatoes, spaghetti or butternut squash, mix of cucumbers & fakus & long Asian cucs, zucchinis, corn, eggplants, basil, tomatoes, parsley, green onions, Swiss chard or lettuce

In the large box, in addition: Provence pumpkin, okra or lubia, leek.

Wednesday: corn, cilantro, tomatoes, eggplants, leek, potatoes, basil, spaghetti squash, melon, kabocha squash or Provence pumpkin, cherry tomatoes

In the large box, in addition: zucchinis, cucumbers / lubia / okra, green onions

* July always bring a shortage in cucumbers, not only in our field, but in the organic market as a whole. Thus, there may be fewer cucumbers in the boxes over the next few weeks.

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Winter squash recipes

Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile-Lime Vinaigrette

Spaghetti Squash Recipe with Spinach, Feta & Basil White Beans

Spaghetti Squash Curry

Sweet and spicy roasted kabocha squash

Kabocha Squash (Pumpkin) Cheesecake with Graham-Lime-Walnut Crust

 

Pumpkin Paste

A recipe from Alon. With Alon, like with all who cook from the heart, there are no exact measurements. Below is a general description:

Ingredients:
Pumpkin, sliced into 2 cm cubes
Several garlic cloves, crushed
Pickled lemon, chopped
Sweet paprika, salt and pepper
Olive oil

Preparation:
Cook pumpkin in boiling water till soft. Mash with a fork or blender (as if preparing puree). Add garlic, lemon, spices and olive oil. When cool, spread generously on bread slices.

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