A Fairytale Pumpkin
Against the backdrop of this Israeli summer’s scorching heat, our warehouse is merrily filling up with an array of colors and shapes: it’s The Pumpkins. When we say pumpkins, we mean that piece of pumpkin you already got in your boxes, as well as the smaller hard squash– the elliptic spaghetti squash (orange, yellow or striped), the small green acorn squash, the orange kury squash that resembles a flattened droplet, the wonderful green kabocha, the brand new Turkish turban squash (thank you, Klara, for the seeds) the light-orange-inside and outside mini Pam squash , and of course, the yummy creamy butternut. You will see the photos and a description of each soon. But first, a brief explanation:
Pumpkins, hard squash (also known as winter squash) and summer squash, among them the zucchini, belong to the same botanical category, and even the same species. The differentiation between squash and pumpkins is artificial, having to do with the stage they are picked and how they are used. All varieties are seeded (in an open field, in their natural season) from the end of winter/beginning of springtime, and they all grow from spring to summer.
However, we pick the “summer squash” early, before they ripen, when their shell is thin and their seeds are not developed, sometimes as early as 40 days from seeding. Since we pick the fruits off the plant before it had time to produce fertilized seeds, the plant makes additional attempts, yielding more and more seed-bearing fruit in order to fulfill its aim in plant-life (and animal-life): to spread its genes. And when the diabolical lesser pumpkin fly takes his time coming, like this year (tfu tfu tfu), we are granted a long harvest season from a plant that just keeps on yielding. These squash do not keep for long, which is why in the past they were only eaten during their natural season, summertime, hence their name. Today, squash are also grown in wintertime in hothouses, so they aren’t really seasonal.
Pumpkins (large and small), however, are picked as they ripen and mature, when their shell is thick and hard and their seeds are quite large. Since we wait till they complete ripening, they are harvested three to five months from seeding day. Our Tripolitanian pumpkin is large, and often requires a wait of six months. The pumpkins that were seeded in the middle of springtime are only harvested at the end of summer. Their hard shell allows them to keep nicely, sometimes up to six months (depending on the variety), enabling them to be eaten in wintertime. This presents a particularly significant advantage in the pumpkin’s ancestral home of North America in those areas where it is too cold to grow food during the winter. Pumpkins were easily stored in warehouses, offering sweetness and a summery zest to the cold wintery days.
In the early days of Chubeza, we used to seed our pumpkins at the end of winter towards springtime, and the hard squash in June (which I’d learned from my pumpkin-raising experience in California). This timing is right for the Americans who need their ripe pumpkins in time for October pumpkin fairs. But year after year, the Israeli reality would inspire a variety of viruses that attacked the gourds and celebrated wildly throughout the summer. As our crops dwindled and our dismay deepened, we grew fewer and fewer varieties of squash every year. From seven the first year, we grew four the second year, and fewer as time went on. Only after several of these failed attempts, we figured it out: our timing was altogether off. So instead of waiting and seeding these squash late, subjecting them to a life of suffering and battling viruses, we decided to seed them earlier like their sibling the great pumpkin. The decision turned out to be wise, and finally we are blessed with a fine yield.
This year we are growing seven different small squash varieties, in addition to the Tripolitanian squash and the Cinderella (Provence) pumpkin, smaller but similar in taste. This week and next, I would like to tell you a little about the beautiful range of squash in our field:
You’ve already met the small acorn squash, originating in Mexico and the U.S. where the Native Americans cultivated earlier species. The dark green type which we grow, which Americans insist is heart shaped (I think it’s more pinecone- shaped) was introduced in 1913 by the Iowa Seed Company, where it arrived from Denmark or North Dakota (there is a controversy about this). It was received enthusiastically, thanks to its excellent taste and also because of its small size and thin shell, a source of relief for those battling the huge, hard pumpkins. In the U.S., and especially for those dining alone, it made a good serving-for-one as well as a great stuffed vegetable.
The Israeli acorn squash varieties are smaller and rounder than their American cousins. The type we grew this year—which is excellent, sweet and orange on the inside—is from the Israeli “Origin Seeds” company. The acorn contains more vitamin C and calcium than other squash, and less vitamin A. If you treat it kindly, it will keep for a few months, but its flavor will ebb.
The other squash you’ve already met in your boxes is the orange squash, resembling a plump raindrop. This is the Japanese squash called “kury,” Japanese for chestnuts. In France it’s called potimarron, and the Brits call it onion squash. It is the sister of the green kabocha (details to follow next week), belonging to the buttercup group developed in North Dakota at the end of the 1920′s for the northern housewife to substitute for sweet potatoes (in pre-global village life). After a few years of cultivation of this specie, Home Ec departments ran a battery of cooking tests, and a prominent panel of judges graded the texture, taste, color, sweetness, etc. Chemistry departments calculated its content of dry mass, compared to popular species. Our friend buttercup won with flying colors. Its flesh is drier, sweeter and very rich, reminiscent of a cross between a pumpkin and sweet potato. It contains more protein than other winter squash and is rich in vitamins A and C. It can sit patiently in the pantry for two to three months.
This squash assortment is presently being stored in our packing house in boxes. Meanwhile we are seeking a more ventilated solution for them, as they suffer from the Israeli heat and do not like being penned in.
Over the next few months, we will slowly begin dotting your boxes with interesting and special kinds of squash. No need to use them right away. Place them on your kitchen counter, and enjoy the growing array of colors and shapes. Once you cut a squash, it must be refrigerated.
Next week we will continue with this colorful parade.
Before we end, we send our heartfelt greetings and love to Oren (a longtime Chubeza woker), to Ifat, and of course to big sister Zohar, on the occasion of the birth of their baby boy, born last Monday on harvest day. Wishing you happiness, “familiness,” and joy.
And wishing all of you a happy, fireless week, full of the goodness of summer,
Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: parsley, lettuce, zucchini, corn, green or sweet red peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers or fakus, scallions, eggplant, red potatoes, Japanese kury squash
In the large box, in addition: okra or Thai yard long beans, cherry tomatoes or melon, butternut squash
Wednesday: lettuce, melon or butternut squash, tomatoes, corn, Japanese kuer or kabocha pumpkins, cucumber or fakus, red potatoes, cilantro, red peppers, cherry tomatoes or okra, small boxes: eggplants or zucchini.
In the large box, in addition: eggplants, zucchini, leek, Thai yard long beens
GREEN AND ORANGE PUMPKIN RECIPES:
Southwestern stuffed acorn squash