Your Home Kitchen Garden’s sister blog, Your Small Kitchen Garden is giving away food! Food? OK, it’s giving away seeds from which you can grow food. The promotion started a few days ago and runs until February 13, 2011.
Neck pumpkin, Pennsylvania Dutch Crook Necked Squash, Long-necked squash… get them all through the Small Kitchen Garden giveaway. Actually, these are all names for the same squash. Plants are very resistant to Squash Vine Borer and they produce fruits that resemble butternut squash only generally much larger. In fact, I’ve seen neck pumpkins that weighed more than 20 pounds!
Neck pumpkins are common in central Pennsylvania, but I’ve never seen them in other states. When you buy a neck pumpkin at a Pennsylvania farmers’ market or a farm stand, there’s a pretty good chance the farmer will ask, “Making pie?”
I’ve used neck pumpkin in pies, and I’ve also served it in all the ways I serve butternut squash. Butternut squash is a tad smoother and it has a richer flavor, but neck pumpkin tastes just fine.
My neck pumpkins grew to about 12 pounds this year, but the seeds I planted came from a 20 pound behemoth. The giveaway includes enough seeds from one of my neck pumpkins for you to plant at least one hill of squash.
Also in this year’s giveaway are seeds from my crop of Andes paste tomatoes. I don’t know for sure that my tomatoes are of the Andes variety, but they match descriptions I’ve read and they look identical to photos of Andes. I started with seeds from some tomatoes a neighbor gave me, and the seeds I’m giving away came from my second year’s harvest.
I love these tomatoes. They are indeterminate and have performed extremely well in my garden… and they taste terrific.
The blue Hubbard squash is among the most beautiful of squashes. It’s exotic, and you might even feel that a whole fruit is ugly. However, the meat of a blue Hubbard runs from blue/green toward the skin, to yellow toward the center of the fruit. It’s gorgeous.
The meat is also delicious, having a squashier flavor than butternut; I like blue Hubbard for my pumpkin pies and other baked goods, but it would be terrific mashed, grilled, or baked.
My home kitchen garden is shot. We’ve had some frost and we’ve had a few deep freezes. This year, I felt no panic about frost; I’ve been overwhelmed with tomatoes and chili peppers so I was kind of looking forward to a night cold enough to shut it all down.
On the morning after that night, I shot a few photos. They capture what I love about the first frost in my home kitchen garden.
My home kitchen garden is quite modest in size, yet I squeeze an enormous amount of produce from it. This season, I planted way too many tomato plants in way too little space, and harvested at least 300 pounds of tomatoes (I wish I’d kept a tally… in peak season I harvested 15 pounds of tomatoes per day).
When I grow too much produce, I muse a lot about selling some of it at a farm stand or a farmers’ market. I give a lot away, and I preserve what I think we’ll use in a year. And, despite the hassles of dealing with so much produce, every fall I develop winter squash envy, feeling a great urge to add more varieties of winter squash to next year’s garden.
This year I planted four types of squash: Butternut, Neck Pumpkin, Blue Hubbard, and Kobocha. Sadly, vine borers decimated the kobocha and the blue hubbard; I got no viable fruit of either type. On the other hand, the butternut and neck pumpkin plants were healthy and prolific.
I gave away one neck pumpkin, and have three on my dining room floor. They weight about 10 pounds apiece. I also have a quickly-diminishing heap of butternut squashes; we’ve eaten it grilled several times, and I stir-fried a wok-full of sweet & sour squash that went nicely alongside beef & broccoli. With Thanksgiving just a month away, I anticipate cooking up some “pumpkin” pies (using squash instead of pumpkin), and I’ve been on a soup-making kick lately, so I expect to be making squash soup in the near future.
Baileys Farm Market, about eight miles south of here, sets out an impressive selection of winter squash each fall. I took my camera and visited this past weekend, hoping to capture some of the magnificence of their squash display.
Wading through the field pumpkins at Baileys is entertaining in its own right, but even a very experienced kitchen gardener is likely to discover new things. My photos reveal only some of the winter squash treasures I saw this weekend. It was so hard not to bring home five or six samples of squashes I’ve not tasted. There’s a reasonable chance I’ll visit Baileys again before winter and pick up a few squashes to taste and to seed next spring’s home kitchen garden.
My favorite item at Baileys was a rather uninteresting squash: it was more or less round, mostly orange, and warty. The squash itself wouldn’t have held my attention, but according to the sign, the variety was simply, Orange Warty Thing. Apparently, this is a very eatable squash, but people tend to use it more as a decoration than as a food.
Zone five denizens probably have rather barren home kitchen garden plots at this point; repeated frost and occasional deeper freezes have shut down all but the hardiest plants. This shouldn’t discourage a kitchen gardener. Fruits of winter squash still abound in local markets. If you can find them in good condition, they may last for months without special treatment; I’ve kept butternut squash on my dining room floor well into spring.
However, there are many easy ways to preserve winter squash so it lasts until next year’s harvest. Perhaps the most complicated of all preservation methods is canning… but canning really isn’t hard to do if you have the right equipment.
You can preserve high-acid and high-sugar foods such as fruits, pickles, jams, jellies, and preserves in a boiling water bath canner. To can low-acid foods such as vegetables and meats, you must use a pressure canner. Some microorganisms simply won’t die at the temperature of boiling water. However, when you increase the pressure in the cooking environment, you also increase the temperature. Generally, the increased heat is enough to kill every microorganism so low-acid foods can survive for a year or more without refrigeration.
Squash is a low-acid food. Unless you want to pickle it before canning, you must use a pressure canner to make it safe for long-term storage (alternatively, you can freeze squash or dry it… but we’ll talk about those preservation methods in later posts).
Neck pumpkin is a magnificent squash that’s common in central Pennsylvania. I wrote about neck pumpkin in Your Home Kitchen Garden at the end of October, and I wrote more about it in my other blog under the topic of Exploring Neck Pumpkin at Your Small Kitchen Garden. There, I explained one method of preparing winter squash for cooking—and, perhaps, the most reliable way to prepare it for blanching and canning.
The photos in this post show the steps I took to can my neck pumpkin. I ended up canning all but a pint it. Of that pint, I cooked a small amount to taste, and used the rest to make pumpkin bread.
My neck pumpkin had the same consistency as butternut squash. The flesh was lighter in color and tasted sweeter than butternut. Also, my neck pumpkin’s flavor wasn’t as “squashy” as butternut… it was a little bland. Still, there’s room for slightly bland squash in my larder; most pumpkin breads and cakes have enough seasoning to make up for blandness in the pumpkin itself… I imagine my family will eat a lot of pumpkin bread and cake in the next year.