Heirloom Squash, Gourds, and Pumpkins
Apr 12th, 2012 | By MaryEllen | Category: Cooking, Food, Top Headline | Print This Article
Heirloom varieties of vegetables, fruits, and even flowers are more popular than ever these days as gardeners learn to love the unique colors, flavors, and shapes of these older varieties. If you have minimal experience with heirlooms, you have surely at least seen a variety of tomatoes. Of all the heirlooms, tomatoes have really taken off in grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and backyard gardens. It’s time to delve deeper into the world of antique foods and discover the fun types of squash, pumpkins, and gourds that you can grow.
While gourds are mostly for decoration and pumpkins are often used only in that way, squash and pumpkins are highly nutritious. They contain plenty of vitamins A, B6, C, and K, as well as several minerals like magnesium, potassium, manganese, and copper. They are also high in fiber and low in fat and sodium. Because they are so nutritious and delicious, it’s time to get squash into your family’s diet. And what better way than to grow heirloom varieties?
So what exactly makes a variety an heirloom? Definitions vary, but generally an heirloom variety of a plant is one that has been around for a long time or has been passed down from generation to generation within a family. In other words, they are not genetically modified. They are also all open-pollinated. There are several reasons that you should consider trying heirloom squash. For a simple reason, they are fun. You and your family will be delighted by the unusual colors and shapes of heirlooms. You will also enjoy more flavors. Many standard vegetables in the supermarket were developed for their ease of growth and resistance to pests, not for their flavor. The result is often bland. You can even save your seeds year after year and develop your own family varieties. There are numerous choices when it comes to heirloom squash. Below are some of the best and most interesting.
Zucchini is a type of summer squash, and this variety produces dark, greenish-black fruits on a small, spiny, bushy plant. This variety is more vigorous than other zucchinis and will give you fruits all summer. The flesh is crisp, green, and fine-textured, and the fruits are best picked at six to eight inches of length.
A winter squash, the blue hubbard is great for winter storage. It comes from New England and is a very productive plant. The fruits are very large and can weigh up to thirty pounds on a normal plant. The skin is bluish-gray and ridged. The flesh is fine-grained and dry with a sweet flavor and a yellow-orange color. Blue hubbards are great for boiling, freezing, and baking.
The buttercup squash has a sweet, rich flavor and is a variety that has been around since the 1920s. The fruits are small, about three to five pounds, flattened, and dark green. The flesh is dry, yellow, and thick. Buttercups will keep very well, but they are also excellent when eaten fresh from the garden.
This dark, purplish colored acorn squash is believed to have been used by the Arikara Indians and passed down by them from generation to generation. The fruits are only about two inches in length, and their flesh is yellow and quite sweet. They work well as either a winter or a summer squash.
The pink banana squash dates back to 1893 and takes its name from its shape and color. It is an attractive, smooth, pink squash that grows on a vine and produces up to thirty fruits per plant. They are between eighteen and twenty-four inches in length and about ten pounds in weight. The flesh is firm, dry, and yellow-orange in color with a sweet flavor. Pink bananas are great for baking, pies, and canning.
If your children are familiar with a typical zucchini, they will be delighted by this spherical variety. The flavor is similar to a long zucchini, but this plant produces round fruits. They are about two to three inches in diameter and are a great choice for stuffing.
Spaghetti squash is one of the more common and popular heirloom varieties of this vegetable. You may even be able to find it in the supermarket. The name comes from the fact that after you roast the fruit you can then pull out the flesh in long, spaghetti-like strands. These can be served just like pasta. Kids love the novelty of this and it can be a great way to get picky eaters into eating squash.
Dating back to 1913, the table queen is a tasty winter squash. With an acorn shape, this squash has a dark green, ribbed exterior and a dark orange interior. The flesh is thick, dry, and sweet and the fruits grow on vines that are six to eight feet long. The table queen is excellent for baking and will store for about six weeks.
The yellow crookneck squash is a great heirloom to start with. It is easy to grow and produces abundant fruits. It has been popular for over 150 years. The fun, crookneck shape appeals to kids, and the white flesh tastes sweet and buttery. Pick when six inches long to keep the fruits coming all summer long.
Many people forget that pumpkins are not just for carving. The Amish pie pumpkin has a thick, bright orange flesh that is very sweet and full of moisture. The flesh can be eaten in the same way as squash, but it is especially good for making pies and for canning.
A great decorative pumpkin, the Casper gets its name from its color. The fruits are white with a slight bluish tinge, which is perfect for Halloween ghosts. They grow to about eight to ten inches in diameter and about ten to twenty pounds. Caspers can also be eaten and have a sweet flavor, reminiscent of winter squash.
For a unique decorative look, this French heirloom variety cannot be beat. Cinderella pumpkins are shiny and red-orange in color. They are flattened in shape and are about six inches tall and eighteen to twenty inches in diameter. The skin is deeply grooved.
Farmers have longed planted this pumpkin variety in between rows of corn to make the most of their field space. The plants produce small, round, ten-to-fifteen-pound fruits that can be carved or eaten. These are great space savers.
If you are looking for a huge Halloween pumpkin, this is your variety. Dill’s pumpkins can grow into monstrosities that weigh up to 400 pounds. Best of all—they’re not just for show. These pumpkins have a flesh that is perfect for pie making.
Another fun variety, this pumpkin has a beautiful yellow color and grows up to twenty-five pounds. It makes a great soup when pureed and an excellent pie. The fruits can also be carved to make a unique jack-o-lantern.
The birdhouse gourd produces fruits with a large, round end that makes it perfect for making homes for the birds in your yard. They make a great project to do with your kids and it is not difficult. The gourds simply need to be hollowed out and allowed to dry.
This is another variety of gourd for crafting. The round fruits can grow up to three to five feet in diameter. They can be hollowed out and dried and used for a variety of purposes. They have traditionally been used as bowls and containers.
The dipper gourd has a small oval end and a long, twelve-to-fourteen-inch handle. Like the two previous gourds, the dipper serves a traditional purpose. When dried, the unique shape makes an excellent utensil, or dipper. They have a very long growing season, so they should be started indoors early in the spring.
Your kids will love this unique and decorative variety. It looks just like it sounds, long and snaky. When dried, these gourds can be used for decoration or as rattles or rain sticks. The dried seeds inside will make a nice rattling noise. They are great for fall decorations and for a variety of craft projects.
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