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Tom Wagner’s favorite squash | New World Seeds & Tubers

Pilar summer/winter squash

Tom says “We’re not real big squash eaters”.

He’s referring to himself and his wife; at our house my family and I could eat hundreds of them a year if we had that many.

The winter type is a tolerably nutrient-dense food in a convenient package that will store on a shelf at room-temperature for months to even up to YEARS for some types of moschatas.

Summer squashes aren’t as nutritious, and they don’t store without some preparation. Best way to preserve them is probably by drying them. You could probably make fermented pickles out of them but being watery they’re probably not the best candidates. Any other way isn’t very cost-effective.

What summer squash are good for is quick-and-easy green or yellow vegetable. Though not very substantial, like an eggplant they’re surprisingly versatile. They make good tempura, which made me think they might make a good substitute for eggplants in making Eggplant Parmasian, and sure enough I found several recipes for exactly that idea and if it works I’ll post a recipe for Zucchinetta Parmagiana. I’ll have to try that; summer squash is a lot easier to grow and more productive in my climate than eggplants are.

Tom’s favorite squash is one that he saw growing last year on various CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture farm) including one belonging to one of his associates. It’s grown primarily as a summer squash, but the fruit is quite edible fully ripe making it a good dual-purpose squash: just grow lots of them, harvest as many of the un-ripe fruits as you need during the summer, and let the rest ripen fully for winter squash.

It has shown up under any of several names:

Zapallito de Redondo
Zapallito de Tronco
Redondo de Tronco

etc. Apparently labeled by people who do not speak Spanish. The correct description should be

“Zapallito Redondo de Tronco”

Which means “Round Maxima-type summer squash”.

But that’s the description not the name! The name is “Pilar”, which means “Pillar”, which means I have no idea how people come up with these counter-intuitive names.

The plant is a little round “bush” type. “Pilar” sounds like it should be upright.

My guess is that someone read the description off the packet of seeds (because that’s exactly what the packets say), and mistook that for the name. The company that sold it put the name in smaller type than the description on the seed packets.

It’s from Argentina, and was bred right outside of Buenos Aires. For a squash that comes from a climate comparable to Florida’s, it performs surprisingly well up here, in fact it was our top performer this year.

It’s just a healthier, more vigorous bush than a typical squash up here. Performs more like an F1 hybrid even though it is open-pollinated. The ones on my farm look great, and even the ones in my front yard (yes, I’m one of those people) look good despite less-than-optimal conditions.

It’s a maxima-type summer squash, which is practically unknown in the USA aside from this import, but they’re common in South America which is not too surprising because that’s the part of the world where maximas apparently originated. Tastes similar to Zucchini but different shape and slightly different texture.

They’ve got a very nice round, pumpkin shape with shallow ribbing.

Kudos to the breeders; I think they did a good job on it.

It’s the only squash that performed well enough this year to have enough to sell our own seed. Tom thinks it should be enough, because he really likes this variety from both growing and eating standpoints. I could buy seed of other varieties in bulk but it might not be worth it because our squash seed sales were not brisk anyway. I think the only way to get more customers to buy squash is to tempt them with a variety of beautiful and unusual-looking squashes.

If and when we do sell other squash seeds it will probably be of our own varieties. We have some specific traits we’re looking for, that I’m not finding in any squash I’ve trialed so far. This is tough country for squashes, so we ask a lot of our squashes.

One of several showstoppers beyond climactic adaptability has been keeping quality; it’s often not as good as advertised. Modern food distribution networks utilize refrigeration and freezing, so squashes have not been selected for long keeping qualities, overall, for generations. There are still long-keepers out there, but finding one suitable for our climate has been a challenge. The best keepers overall are the moschatas (and even they vary), and they like more heat than we can give them. In a good year we can ripen the earliest of them, but this was a bad year and we had a total crop failure.

Some people wonder why we bother. Well, for one thing, back in the day, there used to be a market for regionally-adapted crops, and we suspect that in the eventual breakdown of a globalized food production system that is stretched too thin, there might be one again some day.

For another, this is sort of like the New York City of tomatoes and squashes: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.


2 Responses to “Tom Wagner’s favorite squash”

  1. I like squashes in custards and breads, found that every part but the seeds and stems can be pureed, but have tried more interesting things.

    Inspired by Korean BBQ, I found they go well, thinly sliced or par broiled, on marinated kabobs. They absorbed the savory juices of meats peppers, onions, Italian seasonings, or are tasty with the browner sweetness of teriyake sauces.

    Smaller ones make picturesque soup bowls or hold dried fruits, nuts, butter, and cobbler toppings.

    They are neutral enough in taste to take on the flavors of whatever they are cooked with and, in times of shortage, could be used as a filler with most kinds of foods.

    I have a small, Dill’s Atlantic Giant pumpkin, still forming on the vine, near to the ground. Uncommonly large leaves are now climbing up the shrub and tree, behind it.

    My Korean melon vines are covered in blossoms.

    A huge Butternut from the dollar store had seeds sprouting inside, as soon as we opened it, so these were hurriedly put into tree dams, which get plenty of sunlight. These are now covered in blossoms.

    A store-bought, green acorn squash had bright, white offspring. So, the seeds will be set aside.

    I will be trying Blue Hubbard and Sicana / Cassabanana, next year.

    Grown on raised rows, with drip irrigation, under black plastic, this year’s Connecticut Fields and Baby Boo pumpkins loved to soak up heat, sometimes in excess of 100F. Gophers have eaten their way inside, and toss out the seeds. These have matured early, must be harvested, but will only be put on display as fast as they can be sold, to minimize damage from vandals.

    • When we have better luck and more bandwidth, we’ll increase our offerings of squashes. We like them for a lot of purposes too.

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