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06/16/2017 | Comments

Zucchini squash is the crown jewel of the summer. It grows beautifully in most parts of our diocese and is an extremely versatile food. Archeologists have unearthed traces of this vegetable dating back to 5,500 B.C. in Mexico. Squash was part of their ancient fundamental diet that included maize, beans and squashes. Today this trio is still the backbone of Mexican cuisine known as the “three sisters”. Many explorers who ventured to the Americas brought a wide variety of squash in many different shapes and sizes. While considered “strange food”, the Americans embraced the vegetables and soon started growing them here in the United States. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had them in their gardens.

New England colonists adopted the name “squash” derived from a combination of Native American words for the vegetable, which meant “something eaten raw”. The French call it courgette, the English refer to it as marrow, in Spanish it is calabacín but at last the squash was named in Italy where they called it zucchino. 

Squash is a member of the cucurbita family, which includes melons, cucumbers, gourds and pumpkins. Zucchini grows on bushy plants and also on vines. Mostly they are cylindrical in shape, and their color varies from yellow tones to greens to so dark they almost look black. Many have speckles and stripes. They produce male and female flowers that are usually yellow in color. Believe it or not, zucchini blossoms are prepared as a crunchy, salty appetizer. They are also stuffed with cheese, bacon or mushrooms and baked in the oven — a sought-after, delicious summer treat. 

Zucchini is easy to grow. The most common method is direct seeding into prepared beds, but seedlings are available at most local garden nurseries. Wait until the danger of frost has passed. Adequate moisture is important, especially during flowering and development. The soil should remain moist and should not be allowed to dry completely. Too much moisture and soggy soil can cause decline. Avoid overhead watering of the leaves; water the soil, not the leaves. Keep in mind that wilting leaves during the hot part of the day are not always an indicator that the plant needs water. Check the soil before additional irrigation is applied.

Zucchini is most tender at an immature stage when the rind is soft and the seeds are underdeveloped. They are usually 6-8 inches long and 1½ – 3 inches in diameter. Some varieties may vary in length and width.

It is important to keep up with harvesting. Leaving the squash on the plant slows production. If the yield is too much and all of your friends and family each have two on their kitchen counters, then leaving one or two on the vine will help slow it down. Be sure to cut the fruit from the plant. Attempting to pull the zucchini from the plant will damage the entire plant. For the edible flowers, harvest first thing in the morning before they close. Place them with their bases in water and store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Zucchini squash is yet another blessing from above — a versatile vegetable that we eat raw, add to soups and shred to bake in bread. They can be dehydrated, canned and frozen. When added to recipes, they supply a multitude of nutrition and are a rich source of natural antioxidants, beta-carotene, folic acid and vitamins C and E. They also have healthy minerals including potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, copper and zinc.

“We have a little garden, A garden of our own. And every day we water there, the seeds that we have sown. We love our little garden, And tend it with such care. You will not find a faded leaf, Or blighted blossom there.” ~ by Beatrix Potter, author of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”

(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)

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