Casaubon's Book

There are coyotes denned right across the road, which is one of the reasons we have Mac the Marshmallow. Mac is a 110lb Great Pyrenees dog, a livestock guardian breed the approximate size of a shetland pony. Asher, my four year old, has been known to ride him.

We call him “Mac the Marshmallow” because he’s the color of one, and has the same personality. He’s fearless when it comes to predators, but so gentle one of my cats will stick his head in Mac’s mouth without worry. When a rabbit got out of cage at our house, Mac caught it, and, instead of doing it harm, washed it. For hours. The rabbit was extremely wet and peeved (Pyrs are very slobbery) but entirely safe in the paws of my dog.

Apparently, though, Mac has a mortal terror. It is something that intimidates him more than anything else. He cowers before it. It….is…Hubbard Squash. Yeah, this:

hubbard%20squash.jpg

It certainly is big and grey and warty, and lord knows, the thing weighs 15lbs if it weighs an ounce, but I’m not quite sure what Mac is scared of. But boy is he scared.

You see, night before last we had threats of frost – temps were supposed to dip into the mid-thirties with frost “in the upper elevations” which sometimes means “the top of the Adirondacks” but sometimes means “us.” So we got ready – brought in all the peppers and tomatoes, covered the basil, and harvested the squash, pumpkins and gourds. There were a lot of them – I mean a lot, and some of them ended up sitting on the floor of my kitchen, including a big blue hubbard like the one you see there.

Mac, coming in to eat breakfast began to whimper the moment he saw it. He cowered behind me, and then ran around the corner, looking frantically at this terrible, dog-devouring squash. Back behind me, making the saddest noises in creation. Mac attempted to make himself very, very small – not very successfully, frankly. The squash just sat there – as is its custom – pretending it was not fierce and dog-devouring. Finally, after laughing at my poor dog for an extended period and calling Eric and the boys to witness this, I removed the squash so that Mac could get down to the critical work of eating enough calories to support his frame (approximately 1 bazillion, plus whatever eggs he manages to steal). The squash remained dormant while I moved it, lulling me into a false sense of security.

I, however, was not lulled, and will be hacking the demon squash up with an axe later on this week during part of the flow of guests that comes through our sukkah during the Jewish holiday that starts tonight. We invite guests every meal we can – and that’s a great excuse for opening up a Hubbard, which is dry and sweet and fragrant and delicious – even if it does take an axe to get through the rind and a crowd to eat it all. And I’ve got a bunch more for meals plus dog intimidation!

Hubbards are my personal favorite squash – except, of course, for my other three or four favorites. In this I am like my four year old, whose favorite color is pink, and whose other favorite colors are red and purple and orange and green and blue. I’m not very good at narrowing things down.

Consider the “Winter Luxury” pumpkin:

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As far as I know, these have absolutely no dog intimidation powers whatsoever. They make up for that grievous lack, however, by their astonishing flavor. A roasting winter luxury pumpkin requires no cooking down for pies at all – and the smell is the most delicious thing you’ve ever inhaled – a combination of essence of pumpkin, nut butter and a sweet, creamy odor that is totally indescribable.

They are gorgeous – that netting you see over the orange makes them especially lovely, and they are productive. Their own real weakness is that they don’t keep especially well – by the end of December, they are gone. But oh, how we enjoy them in the meantime. Like all short-season things, one must take them in their time and then long for the next year to come round again.

I don’t actually know how well Hokkaido Blue Squash keep – the reason is that they never last long enough for us to find out.

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They are small, the perfect size for two people to split, and so delicious – nutty and very dry, with a complex sweetness to them. They are always the first squash we eat, and while I’ve heard they keep fairly well, unless I grow a whole bed of them some year, we’ll never know.

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My fourth favorite (as Asher would put it) is pictured above, the Seminole Pumpkin. This is a bit marginal for my area, so we didn’t harvest these, but covered the long vines with blankets in the hope of avoiding a frost. As it happens, we did, and so I’m hopeful they’ll mature. In a good year, they are delicious, and the heat we’ve had this year has made it likely that I’ll get a good crop. They are worth some coddling – they make the best squash risotto and soup I’ve ever eaten.

I grow some of my squash in a neighbor’s garden so that I can save seed and still not have to narrow down my seed catalog choices to a mere two or three varieties. I’m terrible about allowing them to roam, too, so the harvest of squash inevitably involves chasing them down from other beds and around corners where the vines have roamed. This year, I left the frame of my low hoophouse up on the bed where early spring spinach had been nutured after I planted pumpkins and gourds there, and I think I’ll try that again – many of the squash and gourds grew hanging up the framework. Not only did it look cool, it reduced soft spots where they touched the ground.

Today, as autumn begins, so does the season of squash’s mastery – we put extra squash in biscuits in bread, roast them, soup them, puree them. They take up space and are piled up in corners – since they are best kept at low human temperatures if you come to visit, you may find yourself bedding down with a basket of butternuts or pumpkins. The best of them – the Hubbards, the butternuts – they keep all winter and into the spring, rich, sweet and delicious as long as we need them.

Squash and pumpkins are king now – and apparently they know it, and are starting to boss the dog around.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Greenpa
    September 22, 2010

    Rat. I’m yellow with envy for your squash hoard. We’ll have to rely on neighbors this year; just didn’t get any planted in the crush.

    Squash and pumpkins can be dried, too; have you done that? The need is low, since so many keep so well; but- if you don’t have the right storage for them (dry, 50°?) they may spoil. Long ago we had a year with a hyperabundance of pumpkins, and dried them; cutting them into strips and hanging them over the stove to dry. Shrink like crazy, of course. A little fuss to use when adding to soup, but worth it.

  2. #2 darwinsdog
    September 22, 2010

    Cute story Sharon. :)

    I have an area where I planted ponderosa pine, pinyon, & Rocky Mountain juniper back in the mid-90s. They’re 10 – 15 feet tall now & the canopy is starting to close. I call it my “Enchanted Forest.” (This is supposed to be the “Land of Enchantment,” after all.) Last winter we were redoing the compost bins & adding a third bin and while all was disassembled I was dumping the kitchen compost in the Enchanted Forest. Apparently, there were Hubbard squash seeds in the compost because this year a volunteer squash vine germinated among the trees. It is huge, probably the biggest squash vine I’ve ever seen, which is rather surprising because it is growing in the shade. It is producing buku huge squashes.

    Our dog – actually my granddaughter’s dog – isn’t afraid of the Hubbard squashes but she is afraid of the chickens that scratch around in the litter under the Enchanted Forest. I get the impression from her that it isn’t so much that she’s afraid of the chickens but that she’d like to kill them and is afraid of being the very, very bad dog the wolf in her would like to be.

  3. #3 DennisP
    September 22, 2010

    Squash are truly deightful things to write about. There is so much to like about them. We planted this year bush acorns, butternuts, and scarlet Kabocha squash. This year we received 6 inches of rain in June and 12 inches in July. This year our squash took over the universe (at least our corner of it)! We collected 127 squash (of all three types, and not counting the dozen we threw into the compost). That’s about 14 squash for each of the 9 plants, 2 or 3 times what is normal. Last year we grew 42 squash! This year we have three times as much. My goodness, we’ll never eat that many of them.

    We particularly like the scarlet Kabochas. They look like little orange pumpkins. They are more orange than regular pumpkins and less fibrous. Make wonderful “pumpkin” pies (from scratch!) and bread, and other good things.

    The acorns were supposed to be self-contained bush plants. Well they started crawling into the corn on one side and into the tomatoes on the otherand we got something like 53 acorns from 3 plants.

    And the best thing is that squash is so easy to grow! My lesson learned from all this is to water the squash early, often, and intensively.

  4. #4 Fern
    September 22, 2010

    Hubbards make the most wonderful strudel, either alone or mixed with apples. In either case, you cut them up and mix the flesh with cinnamon, nutmeg, some sugar and add a bit of butter.

  5. #5 dewey
    September 22, 2010

    Bwahaha! :)

    This year I grew some squash from Seed Savers Exchange that looks like an acorn squash but is pale yellow so you don’t know when the thing is ripe; and I tried to grow zucchini and melon but they died. The squash patch has become a giant grass farm with fruiting grasses two feet high, because the vines are so bristly that I couldn’t weed under them. The vines have spread over a sidewalk and a good chunk of lawn (they also tried to eat the non-fruiting tomatoes and the peppers, whereupon I said enough was enough and started cutting). This is on the other side of a three-foot fence from neighbors who have the perfect weedless front lawn and concrete back yard; I can’t imagine what they think. We are not planning to grow the stuff again until I’ve gotten all the grass out of that half of the yard, and even then we’ll build a trellis.

  6. #6 stripey_cat
    September 22, 2010

    The slugs got all but one of my squash plants this year (and all my courgettes, until I managed to scrounge a couple of spares), so I’m incredibly envious. Are any of your varieties particularly early? (usual UK problem is too short a season). I’m always interested in trying new ones, as I’ve still not really found a cooker as good as shop-bought butternuts, which is a deeply shocking and humiliating admission.

  7. #7 sealander
    September 22, 2010

    I am jealous too ;)
    The cloudy cold springs followed by cloudy humid summers that we have been suffering in recent years mean that powdery mildew and blossom end rot seems to knock out what little crop I get. Last summer I had five zucchini plants of different varieties which should mean normally I’d be collecting basketfuls of the things and wondering what to do with them – instead I was reduced to buying them from the farmers market. I did get one solitary Bush Queen squash and it was so tasty that I’m planting a bunch of them next time, fingers crossed.

  8. #8 Rebecca
    September 22, 2010

    One of our dogs, Floyd, isn’t afraid of squash, but he is afraid of the broom. Deathly afraid. The dog will have hysterics if he comes in and the broom is out. I spilled something last night and got the broom out to sweep up without thinking and the next thing I knew, poor Floyd was hiding in the bathtub. He got lots of extra cuddles to make up for the fright.

    Princess, our other big dog, is scared of water. Ironic, since she’s mostly lab.

  9. #9 olympia
    September 22, 2010

    Any chance we could have some pictures of Mac, Sharon? A big furry dog who lives in fear of squash is about the cutest thing ever.

  10. #10 Alexandra
    September 22, 2010

    That thing is clearly a pod from outer space, not a squash. Mac is right to be afraid.:-)

    I planted pumpkins for the first time this year and they were about the only successful plant, after basil. The vines have overwhelmed much of the yard. Less to mow!

  11. #11 Roland
    September 22, 2010

    Your first image is missing. I even tried wget:
    http://scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook/assets_c/2010/09/hubbard squash-thumb-400×298-56081.jpg
    And it returned 404. What happened? The other images are fine.

  12. #12 Dennis
    September 22, 2010

    I know a bulldog who is afraid of balloons. He seems fine with squash, though.

  13. #13 knutty knitter
    September 22, 2010

    I can’t grow pumpkins easily round here – not hot enough and too short a season. I got one very small squash and that was it. I might look into some faster growers though.

    viv in nz

  14. #14 Stephen B.
    September 22, 2010

    I have to try Blue Hubbard some time. I actually got some seed a few years ago, but I was already growing 2 different pumpkins, a bunch of summer squashes, butternut, Delicata, acorn… The room just wasn’t there.

    This year the school garden wasn’t done, so I was limited to my own back yard. I ended up with a wheelbarrow full of butternuts.

    One thing I be missing this fall are Delicata. Split lengthwise and baked with a glaze of butter, cinnamon, and some maple syrup and maybe a stuffing of some onion, bacon or ham bits, and a few other things I can’t recall at the moment…..Mmmmmmm.

    Next year I’ll have to get some new Delicata seed. The year before last I saved some Delicata seed, but there was this volunteer pumpkin vine nearby that I guess must also have been of the curcurbita pepo type…..just like Delicata. Uh, oh! Well, last year that saved seed, instead of giving us those beloved Delicatas, produced the largest, green and yellow, pumpkin-sized and shaped things I ever saw. We called them “deli-ca-lumpkins.” They turned out to be way too fibrous to eat, but they looked great on the front porch for Halloween.

    Isolating curcubita varieties by time and space for seed saving is tough. I have so many C. pepo varieties……arrrrh!

    Hubbard is a C. maxima….I don’t think I have any of those lately, though a goodly number of halloween pumpkins I’ve grown for the kids have been maximas I think. Grrrrrrrr (some more.)

  15. #15 Stephen B.
    September 22, 2010

    Actually, that’s spelled cucurbita, not curcurbita. Anyhow, if one ever wants to give kids an interesting lesson in genetics, just sow a bunch of different C. pepo varieties and replant the saved seeds.

  16. #16 Eva Elisabeth
    September 23, 2010

    Most squash and pumpkins don’t grow so well here in Ireland which is good cause I can’t bring myself to like them. I’ve found a couple of recipes that are ok but not very many. Which makes me sad because they are such good keepers and I want to like them, I really do.

  17. #17 Joyce
    September 23, 2010

    Apparently, there is something deeply terrifying about squash in general, as proven by this story of a woman who drove off a bear with a zucchini:

    http://www.cbc.ca/cp/Oddities/a37410.html

    Is this one of those phenomena where animals know something we don’t?

    Joyce

  18. #18 Emily
    September 23, 2010

    Beautiful! That Winter Luxury is the most gorgeous curcurbit I’ve ever seen.

    My friendly co-op gal told me her secret for opening a Hubbard: put it in a paper grocery sack and drop it on the corner of a step. I cracks itself open into pieces you can wrangle with an ordinary kitchen knife.

    Though I like the idea of attacking dog-eating squash with an axe. I’m sure Mac would approve!