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winter squash

Neck Pumpkin from Your Small Kitchen Garden

The big squash is a neck pumpkin that grew in my home kitchen garden in 2010. The small squash is a homegrown butternut squash for the sake of comparison. Yes: seeds from that neck pumpkin may reach you by mail in February if you hop over to Your Small Kitchen Garden and sign up according to instructions there.

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.

Seeds for Your Home Kitchen Garden

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?”

probably an andes tomato from Your Small Kitchen Garden

I pick tomatoes before they ripen. This one is probably an Andes Horn paste tomato. Minimally, it’s an heirloom paste tomato that tastes great raw or cooked. It’s mostly meat, nearly seed-free, and in my experience is hardier than some other popular varieties of tomatoes. Get 20 or more seeds to grow some of your own by visiting Your Small Kitchen Garden and signing up according to instructions there.

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.

Andes Tomatoes from Your Home Kitchen Garden

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.

blue hubbard squash from Your Small Kitchen Garden

Supposedly the model for the alien pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, blue hubbard squash can look quite gnarly. I’ll dissect this modest blue hubbard over the weekend so seeds have time to dry out before I mail them in February. You can get some of the seeds from this squash to plant in your kitchen garden. Visit Your Small Kitchen Garden Seed Giveaway to learn how.

I love these tomatoes. They are indeterminate and have performed extremely well in my garden… and they taste terrific.

Blue Hubbarb Squash

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.

 

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frosted broccoli in a home kitchen garden

After harvesting a few pathetic miniature broccoli crowns from my home kitchen garden, I left the plants to continue growing and harvested a few meals’ side shoots. While the harvest was very disappointing, the plants’ growth was impressive. The largest grew more than eight feet tall. Frost found a few florets on that first cold night and glittered in the early morning sun.

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.

frosted broccoli flowers in a home kitchen garden

Broccoli flowers attracted pollinators through much of the season. The first frost of autumn looked a bit like an aphid infestation on the stems supporting the blossoms.

 

frosted squash leaves in a home kitchen garden

The winter squash plants on that first freezing morning of autumn in my home kitchen garden looked as though they were forged from ice.

 

frosted squash leaf tips in a home kitchen garden

The leaf bud end of a winter squash vine looked otherworldly with a crystalline growth encasing it.

 

dead squash patch in a home kitchen garden

Hours after the frost melted, the tomato, pepper, bean, and squash leaves in my home kitchen garden were limp and discolored. One day earlier, this section of the planting bed had lain under a dense canopy of winter squash leaves. Only weeds survived the cold night.

 

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Home Kitchen Garden Field Pumpkins

It’s hard not to like a heap of ripe field pumpkins. I’ve used such pumpkins to make pies, but they’re rather bland. I recommend them instead for seasonal decorations, carving jack-o-lanterns, and feeding to pigs.

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.

Winter Squash 2010

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.

Home Kitchen Garden Delicata

Delicata has tender skin that many people eat along with the squash’s flesh. From descriptions, this squash sounds very tasty. Each squash is about the size of a quart canning jar, though perhaps a tad thinner.

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.

Squash Fix for a Kitchen Gardener

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.

Home Kitchen Garden Carnival Squash

Carnival squash is colorful and similar in character to acorn squash. I love the textures in this photograph.

Home Kitchen Garden Turban Squash

I love the colors and shapes of Turban squash. We had at least one in a decorative cornucopia as a centerpiece each Thanksgiving at my parents’ table. We probably ate a few of them when I was a kid, but I don’t recall… and I haven’t tried any since.

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.

Home Kitchen Garden Triplet Pumpkin

I’d never heard of Triplet Pumpkins before I visited Baileys, and a few cursory Google searches turned up no references to this squash. The color is similar to that of Blue Hubbard squash and the texture of the skin is vaguely pumpkin-like. However, Triplets are twisted and lumpy. The orange squash in the foreground is Hubbard.

Home Kitchen Garden Orange and Green Squash

I’d never seen a Cushaw squash until about two weeks ago when they showed up at the farmers’ market I frequent. I was fascinated by the colors and patterns, and was happy to find a large bin of them at Baileys Farm Market. I had also never heard of banana squash (top-left in the photo) and encountered it for the first time at Baileys.

 

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canned neck pumpkin from a Home Kitchen Garden

Having been processed in a pressure canner, this neck pumpkin could remain edible for two years, though experts recommend that you use canned vegetables in six to twelve months after processing.

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.

Pressure Canning not Optional

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.

Before you blanch the squash, wash your canning jars, fill them with very hot water, and keep them hot. I fill my jars with hot water and set them in my canner. Then I add the prescribed 3 quarts of water to the canner, and set it on the stove on medium heat so it warms slowly. If the water starts to boil, I turn off the burner… the heat will hold. I also rinse the lids and bands and set them in a pot of water on very low heat.

To do the blanching, first pare and cube the winter squash or pumpkin (the steps I followed are on Your Small Kitchen Garden blog). Blanching is simple. First, fill a very large pot with water and get it boiling. If you’re freezing the squash, you need a correspondingly large pot of very cold water. Because you’re canning, the cold water isn’t necessary.

Put all the squash in the boiling water and wait for the water to start boiling again. Let the squash boil for three minutes, and then ladle it out with a strainer, setting it in a bowl or pot to hold it until you pack it into jars. Keep the hot water in which you blanched the squash; you’ll use it in the canning jars. (If you’re freezing the squash, plunge it into cold water when you remove it from the boiling water… you need to cool it down quickly so it doesn’t get mushy.)

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).

Canned Neck Pumpkin

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.

To fill the canning jars, lift one at a time from the canning pot, pour the water out (save the water for other things such as watering plants or flushing toilets), and set the jar on a clean work surface. Use a measuring cup with a handle to scoop cubes of blanched squash from the holding bowl and dump them into the jar.

When the jar is nearly full, lift it and shake it up and down so the squash cubes settle in and fill spaces. Then add squash, shake the jar, and add squash until there is an inch of space between the top of the squash and the rim of the jar. At this point, fill the jar with boiling water left from blanching.

Use a chopstick or other non-metalic probe to release air bubbles trapped by the squash and top up the boiling water to cover the squash… still leave an inch between the water and the rim of the jar. Finally, wipe the rim and threads of the jar to remove any squash particles you might have gotten on them.

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.

Place a heated lid on the jar, then screw a band onto it. Don’t pull a muscle tightening the band, but don’t be gentle either. When the band is tight, place the jar back into the canning pot. Repeat this procedure until all the jars are full or until you run out of squash.

Read the instructions for your pressure canner and follow them. For mine, I lock the lid on and bring the water to boil. When steam is coming out of the vent pipe (to the left of the pressure gauge), I let it cook for ten minutes. Then I set the pressure regulator on the vent pipe (right). I monitor the pressure gauge until it registers 11 pounds of pressure, then I adjust the heat of the stove to keep the pressure at 11 pounds. Once the pressure is up, I turn the heat down surprisingly low to maintain it… with a stove knob that runs from 0 (off) to 9 (hottest), a setting of about 2.5 is enough to maintain 11 pounds of pressure in the canner.

For squash, the pressure must remain at or above 11 pounds for 90 minutes. If, at any point in that 90 minutes the pressure drops below 11 pounds, you need to get it back to 11 pounds and start timing from zero.

After 90 minutes, remove the canner from the heat and leave it alone until the pressure drops to zero; this could take ten or more minutes. My canning pot has a “vent lock” to tell whether it’s under pressure. When there is pressure, a metal disk rises above the lid (right). Once that disk drops back in place (left), it’s time to open the canner’s lid. With any canner, do this cautiously. I wear oven mitts, stand back from the canner, and keep the lid between me and the steam.

Set the lid aside, and lift the jars from the canning pot. Set them on a cooling rack or on a towel on the counter. Let them sit for a day so they cool and seal. As they cool, the lids will pop with a “ping.” After the jars cool, examine the lids to confirm that they form concave surfaces—they should bulge down into the jars. If you remove the band, you should be able to lift the jar by the lid. If a lid hasn’t sealed, refrigerate the jar and use its contents within three days.

 

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