The near-record wet months of April and May did not bode well for most farms with planting that needed to get done in a timely manner.
Squash, which are in the cucurbit family that also includes melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, and gourds, are not big fans of wet, cloudy weather. However, more sun and drier growing conditions in June, if these weather patterns hold, should produce good crops of cucurbits later in the season. Summer squash, the first cucurbits of the season, should be starting to trickle into your local farmer’s markets now.
Squash is believed be native to the Americas, and evidence is found of its usage as a food as early as 7000 BC in Mexico and Central America. Squash have been grown at least since the 15th century by Native Americans in the U.S. Squashes were considered as one of the “three sisters” along with corn (maize) and beans. Summer squash, and cucurbits in general, come in many different varieties. Summer squash types may differ in shapes, size, color, and flavor, but they all share some common traits. All parts of summer squash are edible, including the flesh, seeds and skin. Some varieties of squash, such as zucchini, also produce edible flowers. Unlike winter squash, summer squash are less hardy and cannot be stored for long periods of time unless frozen.
Health & Nutrition
The mild flavors and creamy flesh of summer squash are hard to beat. They make a great addition to any summer meal. Any they’re loaded with health benefits. Summer squash are naturally high in manganese, and are also a good source of zinc and vitamin B complex, along with folate. They are also very good sources of vitamin A, potassium, magnesium, copper, vitamin E, and phosphorus. They contain high levels of the common antioxidants Vitamin C and beta-carotene. But squash also contains an unusual amount of other antioxidant nutrients, including the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants are especially helpful in antioxidant protection of the eye, including protection against age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Carrots are traditionally thought of to play this role in eye health, but summer squash does as well. Since the skin of summer squashes are particularly antioxidant-rich, it’s worth leaving the skin intact when possible.
Summer squashes can be boiled, microwaved, steamed, or baked. But what is the way that retains the most health benefits? New evidence shows that summer squash can retain a larger amount of its antioxidant activity with steaming. Using zucchini as their summer squash, researchers found that steaming was a better way to preserve zucchini’s antioxidant activity than boiling or microwaving. Interestingly, even previously frozen zucchini held on to its antioxidant activity fairly well after steaming. These findings are great news for anyone enjoys steamed vegetables and who sometimes needs to freeze surplus vegetables for later use.
In the U.S., you’ll most likely find three types of summer squash: Zucchini, crookneck & straightneck squash, and scallop or pattypan squashes. Zucchini has skin that can be yellow in color but is much more often found with its slightly less mature dark green skin, which is naturally spriped or speckled. Crookneck and straightneck squashes are usually yellow in color. While sometimes available with light green skins, bright yellow crookneck and straightneck squashes are the varieties that we most commonly associate with summer squash. Crookneck and straightneck summer squashes can be very similar in appearance, since crookneck varieties may have a very minimally curved neck that is almost swan-like in appearance. Cushaw squashes are special varieties of crookneck squashes that are much larger than other crooknecks, even though they are easily recognized by their similar bulb-like shape. Cushaws take about twice as long to grow as other crooknecks, and are often used in baking (for example, in pies). Scallop squashes, also called pattypan squashes are usually saucer-shaped and come in a wide variety of colors from very pale yellow to golden yellow to medium green. Scallop squashes sometimes have a slightly sweeter flesh than other summer squashes. In some countries, you’ll also hear the words “scallopini” or “button squash” used to describe the scallop squashes.
Selection & Storage
When picking out summer squash at your local farmers market, roadside stand or supermarket, look for ones that seem heavy for their size and have shiny rinds with few blemishes. The rinds should not be very hard since this indicates that the squash are over-mature and will have hard seeds and stringy flesh. Purchase summer squash that are of average size since those that are overly large may be too fibrous, while very small ones may not have a very strong flavor.
Summer squash is fragile and should be handled with care as small punctures will lead to decay. It should be stored unwashed in an air-tight container in the refrigerator, where it will keep for about seven days.
While it can be frozen, this will make the flesh much softer. Freezing as a routine storage method is not generally recommended, but can be done if you bought way too much or overplanted in your garden. Other good news about freezing these veggies is that recent research has shown excellent retention of the antioxidant activity in summer squash following blanching and freezing.
For more agriculture and nutrition information, call your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office. Go to http://cce.cornell.edu to find your local office.
From Kerry Panek, courtesy of Guinivere Panek, Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension
2-3 zucchini or summer squash, sliced
1 can cream soup (chicken, mushroom, broccoli, etc)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 package stuffing
1/3 to 1/2 cup shredded cheese
1/2 cup shredded carrot (optional)
Combine all ingredients. Place into an 8×8 or 9×13 baking dish (depending on the size of the squash). Cover and bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until squash is tender.
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