Garden Notes: Pumpkins and squash

A bountiful harvest all around.

A bountiful 2017 squash and pumpkin harvest. — Susan Safford

This has been such a great season for squash and pumpkins! Such a bountiful harvest requires expanding the repertoire, and branching out for variety.

I like butter (lots), salt, pepper, garlic-onion-leek-shallots, and plenty of sage and thyme to season my main-course winter squash or pumpkin dishes, although many recipes call for ingredients that turn these vegetables into veritable dessert dishes: brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and seasonings such as cinnamon that belong in a spice cookie!

Squashes and pumpkins are good sources of vitamins A and C. They are also high in carotenes, like other yellow and orange foods, and antioxidants. These nutrients are collectively known to be good for eye health. Seeds of winter squash and pumpkin are a nutritional powerhouse, but that is another column.

Winter squashes are effectively utilized as intercrop scavenger plants to remediate contaminated soils. Based on their ability to take up whatever the soil holds, maybe organically grown ones are best.

Most of us have our favorite way to make a pumpkin pie, and many turn to “the can” for timesaving and simplicity. But do you know that using a slow cooker to process makes an easy substitute for pumpkin from a can? After the initial preparation, the resulting purée is used exactly the same way, but with the harvest from your own garden, or a nearby field.

Clean the surface and place the whole squash or pumpkin in the cooker casserole. Cover with the lid and turn on to low setting. Test with knife after six to eight hours; if it pierces easily, let it cool, and then peel, seed, and purée. Can in jars, or freeze in bags or containers. Use as for “the can” in recipes such as the following cornbread.

Squash Cornbread

(“Country Wisdom & Know-How,” Storey Books)

1 egg, beaten
1 c. cooked squash purée
¾ c. cornmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
½ c. frozen or fresh kernel corn
¼ c. oil

Beat egg lightly, then beat into the purée. Add the other ingredients and mix lightly. Pour thick batter into well-buttered cast iron skillet (8 inches across). Dot with butter, bake at 350°F for 40 minutes.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

(“The Silver Palate Cookbook,” Workman Publishing)

4 Tbsp. sweet butter
2 c. finely chopped onions
4-5 tsp. curry powder
3 c. chicken stock
2 medium-size butternut squash (about 3 lbs. altogether)
2 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 c. apple juice
salt & pepper to taste
1 shredded unpeeled Granny Smith apple (garnish)

Melt the butter in a pot. Add chopped onions and curry powder and cook, covered, over low heat until onions are tender, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile peel the squash with a vegetable peeler, seed, and chop the flesh.

When onions are tender, pour in the stock, add squash and apples, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until squash and apples are very tender, about 25 minutes.

Pour the soup through a strainer, reserving liquid, and transfer the solids to the bowl of a food processor or food mill, reserving 1-2 cups of the solids. Add one cup of the cooking liquid and process until smooth. Return pureéd soup to the pot, and add apple juice and additional cooking liquid, about 2 cups, until the soup is of the desired consistency.

Add the reserved solids and season to taste with salt and pepper, simmer briefly to heat through, and serve immediately, garnished with shredded apple.

John Thorne’s Pumpkin Tian

(“More Home Cooking,” Laurie Colwin, Harper Perennial).

Serves 4. 2 big butternuts or 4 smaller delicatas: peel, seed, and cut into 1-inch chunks. Shake the chunks in a bag of flour, shake off the excess flour, and put them into an oiled or buttered shallow baking dish. Scatter the squash with about ⅓ cup of good Parmesan; 1 large garlic clove, minced; and pepper to taste. Drizzle the tian with ¼ to ⅓ cup best olive oil, and put it into a preheated 400°F oven. Bake the tian for 30 to 40 minutes.

In the garden

The largest of the self-sown lamb’s lettuce is approaching usable size in this cooler, sunny weather. I like to let the flowering plants go to seed in spring. If allowed to self-sow, they produce a cost-free, gourmet, cold-hardy winter salad. The taste is slightly mealy and delicate; it pairs well as a base for the classic marinated beet salad with whipped goat cheese (New York Times, August 23).

Walking around one’s garden, one spots things that have gone awry over the course of the season. Dieback in viburnums seems to be a part of these multistemmed shrubs’ growth habit. I spotted a long branch about three-quarters of an inch thick on a Viburnum carlesii, with only brown, crisped leaves — obviously something unwell and unsightly. Once I started to prune it off, the entire large stem it had sprung from came loose from the base. It would be more upsetting without the understanding: This is something viburnums do.

While we do much corrective pruning starting now, the winds have been doing the upper-air pruning we cannot reach. Many limbs and branchlets have been shedding, some bare and really dead, and some with leaves still attached. Scouting around for them and adding them onto the pile is part of fall garden cleanup.

It is not too soon to put up physical barriers for deer protection, but it is good to be aware of how falling leaves may collect in or on top of barriers and pull them over later on, especially with additional snow or ice.

Digging and dividing perennials is one of those fall tasks that become real workouts but yield big dividends, with more and healthier plants, and better flowering.