• By Janine Pineo •
Back in the day when people ate rocks and twigs, someone noticed a viney thing with something attached that looked more appetizing than rocks and twigs and ate it.
I suspect that if they knew the name was squash, they might have kept gnawing on rocks and twigs.
Seriously, say squash. It’s not a pretty word. If one were to judge vegetables by name alone, then squash would suffer more slings and arrows than it already does.
And that would be a shame.
One can’t know what the locals called it down Mexico way around 9,000 years ago. According to a UCLA botany site, caches of squash seeds have been found in structures dating back those many years. One might want to eliminate forgetful squirrels as the gatherers of such hoards, but the site goes on to state emphatically that humans were doing something with squash for sure by 5,000 B.C.
They probably just didn’t call it squash, which seems to stem from the word “askutasquash” straight out of what we know as New England from the Massachusett tribe, according to a Texas A&M University agricultural site. It means “eaten raw or uncooked.”
I happen to love squash in its many shapes and forms. The summer varieties — from zucchini to pattypans — in all their green and yellow glory are a treat to eat. They can star in anything from a stirfry to a pickle recipe to a chocolate cake.
The winter varieties do just as much, plus they can be stored if properly cured.
That is if one can grow them in the first place.
I think the biggest problem for me is one of space; I don’t have enough.
Summer squash. Cucurbita pepo if you want the botanical nomenclature, is more like a bush. The plants can still be huge, but they don’t run about the garden with abandon.
Winter squash tend to do just that, creeping and climbing seemingly overnight. Those ones, the C. maxima and the C. moschata of the squash world, run amok quick as a wink. Given my space constraints, they can be troublesome to grow. They like to ramble to produce well, so my results over the years have been less than stellar.
No doubt my constantly tripping over vines hasn’t helped the cause.
After many seasons of experimentation, I’ve found a few varieties that work in smaller spaces, and this year’s standout was Carnival, an acorn type.
In an attempt to keep the cucurbits corralled this summer, I planted two rows of cucumbers side by side, ending with a couple of winter squash at the end. All went under a wide, lightweight row cover to protect the emerging seedlings from cucumber beetles until unveiling the plants in July. Before I did that, though, I set up the wire fencing I bought a few years back in my perennial attempt to get the cucumbers to climb instead of sprawl. I think it was marketed as goat fencing, but my intent was to have something about 5 feet tall that could be used annually as a trellis.
Never would the cucumbers climb it. I began to think that hauling on that fencing — which is pretty heavy and awkward to move — was a waste of time.
Until this year.
Not only did the cucumbers climb merrily up and along, but so did the winter squash I planted, three hills each of both Carnival and Baby Pam, a small pumpkin variety.
Sure, the footpath between the two rows was a sea of green leaves twining, but either side was clear with the vines reaching for the sky.
And despite the droughty period we suffered, I got oodles of cucumbers on the ground and dangling so very nicely from the trellis.
But the real surprise was the squash. Little Carnivals started popping up. Half were on the ground while the other half clung to the trellis.
All had their own personalities because one of Carnival’s most fetching characteristics is its crazy splotches of color. Hues of green, gold, yellow and cream spot the skin in unique patterns. Fedco Seeds of Waterville, from whence I purchased my seed, noted that the color variation stems from the temperature. High temperatures mean more green and less yellow.
Just what I need: a tasty winter squash that records the temperature for future reference.
At least until it’s cooked.
First published in the Bangor Daily News on Oct. 27, 2012.