Friday, October 28, 2011

Harvest Ingredient 27: Yellow Squash

So far this month we've discussed winter squash and Zucchini, and obviously I'm saving pumpkins for the Big Pumpkin on Monday; but lets not leave out the lowly yellow summer squash!  One of two of the most popular squashes to eat young and fresh, "green" if you will, yellow squash has been an important part of the native north American diet for centuries.  Part of the larger C. pepo sub-family of the Cucurbita family; the category strangely also includes acorn squashes and most pumpkins, which, obviously are not eaten in their "summer" stage.

Technically there are 3 distinct types of yellow squash:  The plain yellow summer squash, yellow zucchini and the yellow crookneck squash, which is the most popular and widely available.  Of the crookneck, there are two types, the popular smooth type and the less seen bumpy ones.  While they are have distinct flavors, the crookneck and regular yellow summer squash more or less taste the same; while the yellow zucchini has a distinct flavor (even from regular or green zucchini) which is less sweet; and the meat is dryer than the other two.  There is also a weird hybrid bi-color version of the Cousa squash that is partly the regular light mottled green of that type, and part yellow--these squash tend to be quite sweet but dryer that yellow or crookneck.

As noted before, the word squash comes from the Narragansett/Wampanoag Algonquin languages Askutasquash (green things to eat raw); and summer squash can indeed by eaten raw.  In some indigenous communities, the whole plant is used, with the new shoots, small leaves, tendrils, blossoms and fruit all being used in various preparations.  In Mexico especially the plants are utilized in a variety of ways.  Shoots, tendrils, leaves and blooms go into a delicate broth of homemade chicken consomme'.  The blossoms are sometimes stuffed or used to make fillings for quesadillas.  Vegetarian squash tacos can also be found in various are of the country and in Veracruz the blooms goes into a delicate cream sauce for poached whole chicken.  A popular dish from Peru has the blossoms stuffed with all manner of seafood and fried.  A traditional Abenaki recipes calls for them to coated with cornmeal and fried.  

No one is 100% sure when and were cultivars for the yellow type squash were obtained.  What is known is that between 10,000 to 8,000 years ago the first true "squash" plants were under domestication of some sort in Mesoamerica.  There is apple evidence that it was-re-domesticated in other parts of the America's to the north of this original area, which is probably where these yellow gems come from.  Their use in native foods shows up mostly in North America, with most native recipes for them being confined to the US--and then mostly on the east coast, especially in the southeast.  In the eastern part of the United States, this variety of squash makes up one of the three principle components of the Three Sisters combination, along with beans and corn.  

As far as their preparation if concerned, they have been grilled, roasted and stuffed for centuries.  In olden times, they were sliced into strips and dried for winter use; this product was useful in the lean winter months in the northeast and made for ideal traveling food.  There were, and sill are used in Three Sisters Preparations of all sorts, one of the most popular of which is mixed with native "wild rice."  They have also been chopped or mashed and mixed with cornmeal for form a kind of hoe-cake or ash cake.  They were also put into cornbread and even spoonbreads.  Skillet Squash is very popular in the southeast and grated squash quick breads are common. It is also popular in Three Sisters Chowder or in soups that feature it alone.

In modern times, they are battered and fried, fried with cornmeal crust, put in all manner of casseroles, mixed with non-native ingredients like eggplant for "mix its,"  canned at home, made into relished, even candied and used in deserts.  The have a special affinity with the imported yellow cooking onion and make a nice dish around Christmas time mixed with red and green peppers.  Across the globe they are treated in local culinary fashion.  In rural China, where are popular because they are cheap and easy to grow, they are stir-fried with leaves in a read hot wok.  In India that go into curries, and in some regions samosas, the Mediterranean they are paired up with locals herbs and sometimes lemon.  In France it is sometimes added to that country's southern favorite, ratatouille (which is really all a "mix it" is anyway).  Grated they make really nice fried fritters.  Here a nice list of summer squash recipes, it's quite exhaustive.

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